Engagement & Learning

Cultural Anthropology

Cultural anthropologists broadly study the shared and negotiated meanings that different groups of people learn and use to interpret experience. Culture generates much of human social behavior, and anthropologists study shifts in meaning and social patterns through fieldwork (ethnography) in contemporary societies and by comparing the historical and ongoing changes within and between societies (ethnology).

As the primary means for human survival, culture is also grounded in how our species adapts to our physical and social environments. Cultural anthropologists seek to describe and explain similarities and differences among diverse forms of cultural adaptation, including beliefs, behaviors, and experiences.

Current research and teaching interests among the cultural anthropology faculty focus on the revitalization of Buddhism, transformations in gender roles, the interrelationship between religious practices and politico-economic changes, transnational identities, applied anthropology, medical anthropology and public health, the environment, intensification of agriculture and food systems, sports culture, corporate culture, maritime and economic anthropology, and globalization theory. The program emphasizes the importance of empirical, ethnographic research in both the undergraduate and graduate program. The faculty specialize in the cultures of Southeast Asia, Oceania, Scandinavia, Africa, and the United States.

The cultural anthropology program is closely linked to the linguistic anthropology program and the applied anthropology program. Students have the opportunity to work closely with individual faculty in developing their research topics in collaboration with other subdisciplines within anthropology and/or other departments. The faculty have international consulting experience with such agencies as the United Nations Development Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Asian Development Bank, U.S. Agency for International Development, United Nations Population Fund, the International Council for Science, and various international non-governmental organizations concerned with development. They also have served as local consultants to state and federal governmental agencies, grassroot non-profit groups, environmental organizations, and international cross-cultural training institutes.

Field schools in Cambodia and Thailand have been conducted by cultural anthropology faculty in the last few years. A number of other undergraduate and graduate students have benefited from more individualized instruction by accompanying professors on research projects locally and in Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Susan Russell has spent the last eight years working on projects designed to help bring peace to the war-torn southern Philippines. With more than $1.5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of State, these projects bring young people from Christian, Muslim and Animist religious communities together to reconcile their differences and learn about U.S. institutions that promote tolerance and diversity.

Below are some examples of research, but please be sure to check out our department news page here for more information