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Szold Distinguised Service Professor of Anthropology
2 East South Street
Galesburg, IL 61401-4999
Szold Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology
"I have always been fascinated with the way culture and social organization affect our personal experience of the world. How do the ideas, social arrangements, and structures of power that we happen to have grown up with affect our sense of who we are and what's important? In my research and writing, I try to examine and render visible the contingent relationships between these factors and their significance for people's everyday lives. These were some of the themes I explored in my book, Imagining the Course of Life, which looks at how people's ideas about human development are connected to cultural constructions of self and personhood.
The primary site for my research has been in Thailand, where I have conducted extensive and long-term fieldwork in the Thai-Burma border area and in the city of Chiang Mai. Over the course of this fieldwork experience, I have developed strong research interests in Buddhism, indigenous psychologies, rural economic change, schools and education, cross-border migration, and the contemporary expression of identity in urban, multi-ethnic contexts. I am always looking for ways to introduce students to the pleasures and rigors of ethnographic fieldwork, and often incorporate examples from my own research in my courses."
Years at Knox: 1984 to present
Ph.D., Anthropology, 1984, University of Illinois.
M.A., Anthropology, 1979, University of Illinois.
B.A., Anthropology, Phi Beta Kappa, 1975, University of Iowa.
Cultural anthropology, socio-economic change, psychological anthropology, Southeast Asia, gender, religion, ethnographic research methods.
"Caught in the Middle: The Changing Role of Buddhist Meditation for Older Shan Adults," Contemporary Buddhism, Vol. 18, No. 2 (2017).
"Piaget and Durkheim: Competing Paradigms in the Anthropology of Morality," Journal of Anthropological Theory, Vol. 14, No. 3: 301-316 (September 2014).
"Everyday Morality: Constructing a Buddhist Ethos in Rural Thailand," Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 42, No. 3: 393-414 (September 2014).
"Rite of Passage or Ethnic Festival? Shan Buddhist Novice Ordinations in Northern Thailand" in Contemporary Buddhism 10.1 (2009).
Imagining the Course of Life: Self-Transformation in a Shan Buddhist Community. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu (2006).
2017 Invited discussant for panel on "Emotional and Intimate Variations: Historicizing and Contextualizing Affect Amid Changing Political Economies in Mainland Southeast Asia," Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, Toronto, Canada. March 16-19, 2017.
"Buddhism on the Border: Changing Practice in Rural Mae Hong Son." Paper presented at the International Burma Studies Conference, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL. October 7-9, 2016.
Invited Virtual Speaker: Professor Daniel Kent's class on "Buddhist Ethics" at Whitman College, September 27, 2016.
"Lived Buddhist Practice," Talk presented at Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ. August 1, 2016.
"Changing Buddhist Practice in Rural Thailand." Paper presented at the Council on Thai Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2014.
Invited discussant for panel on "Religion, Ethnicity, and the Crisis of Modernity" at the Asia Pacific Sociological Association Conference Transforming Societies: Contestations and Convergences In Asia and the Pacific, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2014.
"Integrating Local Conceptions of Personhood, Agency, and Human Development into the Study of Morality." Paper presented as part of the double-panel session Toward an Anthropology of Morality at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association, Philadelphia, December 2009.
"What Does It Mean to Be Shan? Shifting Ethnic Markers for Shan in Northern Thailand." Paper presented at the International Burma Studies Conference, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois, 2008.
"Stepping into the Same River Twice? Re-studies of a Shan Community in Northern Thailand." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, Atlanta, Georgia, 2008.
"Negotiating Shan Identity in Northern Thailand." Paper presented at the Conference on Shan Buddhism and Culture, hosted by SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) at the University of London, 2007.
"Evolving Economic and Gender Practices in a Shan Community of Mae Hong Son Province," with Steve Cohn, paper presented at IAFFE (the International Association for Feminist Economics), Bangkok, 2007.
"Religion and Self Transformation." Paper presented at a conference on Religion and Culture, hosted by the Institute of Religion, Culture, and Peace at Payap University, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2007.
"Changing household strategies in a Shan community of Mae Hong Son province: The Impact of Cross-Border Migrants and Capitalist Development." Invited talk at the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2007.
"Buddhism and Animism," guest lecture for course on Thai Buddhism at Payap University, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2007.
"Education and Poverty." Invited discussant for panel at the international conference Critical Transitions in the Mekong Region hosted by the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development, Chiang Mai University Thailand, 2007.
Sabbatical research in Thailand and Burma on the relationships among Buddhist monasteries, changing educational opportunities, and cross-border migration; three months during 2014.
Research on Shan Buddhist texts and ritual change in monasteries in northern Thailand, summer of 2009.
Sabbatical year in Chiang Mai, Thailand; affiliation with the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development, Chiang Mai University; research on impact of cross-border migrants from Burma on Shan population in northern Thailand, 2006-2007.
Extensive field research on various aspects of Shan culture and social life in rural Mae Hong Son province, Thailand from 1977 to 2009, funded by a series of grants from the University of Illinois, Fulbright-Hays, SSRC, NSF, and Knox College.
Campus and Community Involvement
What Students Say
"Nancy permanently affected my way of thinking, more so than almost any of my professors during my time at Knox. Always caring and approachable, she conducts an open, comfortable classroom, and she has the rare ability to incorporate and balance all aspects of sociology and anthropology in her teaching - women, gender, economics, climate, sexuality, methodology, history, language, etc. Her time spent researching in Thailand clearly shows her students that she is not just a professor of anthropology, but an anthropologist herself. She chooses contemporary ethnographies written by men and women who are thinking in new ways - every day, Nancy challenges her students to analyze the human condition, propelling us to leave our comfort zones or ethnocentrism and instead view all people and cultures as equals, on the same plane."
-Olivia Evelyn Engel, English Creative Writing Major, Anthropology/Sociology Minor