Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Linguistic anthropology, the anthropology of Christianity, translation, religion and media, Melanesia, Oceania.
My research interests emerge from my long term fieldwork on Protestantism and schism in a rural Papua New Guinea community (from 2003 to the present) and my graduate training at the University of Chicago in linguistic and cultural anthropology. In an area where people are constantly searching for ways to be Christian in novel, modern, moral, and culturally “traditional” ways, one of the abiding concerns for Guhu-Samane people with whom I worked has been how to create a Christian group, whether that is a Christian village, polity, church or ethnicity. That is, if people are committed to being Christian individuals, they are not quite sure how best to go about being Christians together, and new churches have formed in the area on a regular, insistent, basis. In this context of social instability the media through which social groups are consolidated and institutionalized have become highly politicized. These media include the Bible translated into the local vernacular, also known as Guhu-Samane. The language itself is even argued over as a medium of sacred group formation and, more broadly, as a medium of salvation.
More generally, then, my work revolves around moral questions of social group formation and the media through which groups consolidate and fragment. This includes a particular emphasis on the history and practice of Bible translation in (post) colonial communities, focusing on the work of SIL International (formerly, the Summer Institute of Linguistics). In future I will be expanding on these themes to address questions of the formation of a national religious polity in Papua New Guinea – a Christian public sphere – that is mediated more by television, internet, and text messaging than it is by the small scale print capitalism of Bible translations. This research will bring me back to an original focus of my research on the history of the creole lingua franca Tok Pisin, and its changing role in the cosmopolitan Christian public that continues to be a louder and louder voice in Papua New Guinean affairs.
I teach courses that reflect and further these research interests. In addition to teaching Introduction to Anthropology, I teach courses on Materiality/Media/Religion (syllabus), Translation and the Boundaries of Difference (syllabus), Ethnographies of Global Christianity, and the Anthropology of Melanesia. I am also planning on developing new courses during my sabbatical year 2012-2013.