Anthropological inquiry has often been considered an agent of intellectual secularization. Not least is this so in the sphere of religion, where anthropological accounts have often been taken to represent the triumph of naturalism. This metanarrative however fails to recognise that naturalistic explanations could sometimes be espoused for religious purposes and in defence of confessional creeds. This essay examines two late nineteenth-century figures – Alexander Winchell in the United States, and William Robertson Smith in Britain – who found in anthropological analysis resources to bolster rather than undermine faith. In both cases these individuals found themselves on the receiving end of ecclesiastical censure and were dismissed from their positions at church-governed institutions. But their motivation was to vindicate divine revelation, in Winchell’s case from the physical anthropology of human origins and in Smith’s from the cultural anthropology of Semitic ritual.