Ken George

EmPr Ken George

Emeritus Professor of Anthropology


Research activity per year

Personal profile


Ken joined the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific in 2013 as Professor of Anthropology and Director of the School of Culture, History and Language, having served previously at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Harvard University and the University of Oregon.  He is a specialist on South and Southeast Asia and a Past Editor of the Journal of Asian Studies (2005-2008).  His ethnographic research in Indonesia began with a prize-winning study on the cultural politics of minority ancestral religions (1982-1992). He followed that work with a long-term collaboration (1994-2014) with painter A. D. Pirous, exploring the aesthetic, ethical, and political ambitions shaping Islamic art and art publics in that country.  Ken has been the recipient of major postdoctoral fieldwork fellowships from the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.  His fellowships for writing and study include awards from the National Endowment of the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. His current research with Kirin Narayan (2017-present) has been supported by the American Institute of Indian Studies, the USIEF Fulbright Program, and an Australian Research Council Discovery Project Award. Together they are exploring the intermingling of Hinduism, Buddhism, artisanship, and technology in India and beyond.  His other research projects are two: The first looks at the production of “companionable objects and “companionable conscience” in an effort to link works of art to ethics, affect, language, and public culture.  The other explores the theopolitics of art and technology in object-oriented lifeworlds and public spheres.

The data provided by PURE to Ken's ANU research profile and research page fail to include over two decades of scholarly books, articles, fieldwork grants, awards, book reviews, and editorial work (1977-1998).  Viewers are advised to consult Ken's CV available at or in the following abbreviated CV:


Ph.D., Anthropology, 1989                      University of Michigan

M.A., Anthropology, 1980                       University of Michigan

M.A., Folklore, 1978                                University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

B.A., English, 1975                                  Tufts University


Previous Appointments

Professor & Director (2013-2016)              School of Culture, History and Language
                                                               ANU College of Asia and the Pacific

Visiting Professor (2015)                           Centre Asie du Sud-Est, EHESS

Professor (1999-2013)                              Department of Anthropology
    (Chair 2004-2007)                                University of Wisconsin-Madison

Senior Fellow (2011-2013)                        UW-Madison Institute
                                                               for Research in the Humanities

Editor (2005-2008)                                   Journal of Asian Studies

Visiting Scholar (1999-2000)                     School of Social Science
                                                               Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

Associate Professor                                   Department of Anthropology
         (1997-99)                                       University of Oregon                   

Associate Professor                                   Department of Anthropology
         (1996)                                            Harvard University

Assistant Professor                                   Department of Anthropology
         (1990-96)                                       Harvard University

Visiting Assistant Professor                        Department of Anthropology
         (1990)                                            University of South Carolina

Visiting Assistant Professor                        Department of Anthropology
         (1989)                                            Tulane University

Adjunct Lecturer                                       Department of Anthropology
         (1987‑88)                                       University of Michigan


Postdoctoral Research Awards & Fellowships

Australian Research Council Discovery Award, 2017-2020 (Co-Chief Investigator w/Kirin Narayan)

American Institute of Indian Studies Senior Scholar Development Fellowship, 2017-2018, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, NEH Appropriation  #RA-235170-16

Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Research Award, USIEF, 2017-2018

National Humanities Center Summer Institute on Objects, Places and the Digital Humanities, 2017 & 2018

NEH Fellowship for University Teachers, 2008-2009

John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, 2003-2004

Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, 2002

Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 1999-2000

NEH Fellowship for University Teachers, 1996-1997

Social Science Research Council Advanced Research Grant, 1995-1996

Aga Khan Trust for Culture Research Fellowship, 1993-1994

The Getty Center for the History of Art & Humanities Resident Fellowship, 1990‑1991 (declined)

NEH Seminar, "Poetics and Social Life," Indiana University, 1990


Books & Prizes

2012     Melukis Islam: Amal dan Etika Seni Islam di Indonesia.  Bandung: Mizan Publishers.
(An Indonesian edition of Picturing Islam [2010] below, with a special preface and foreword.)

2010     Picturing Islam: Art and Ethics in a Muslim Lifeworld.  Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.

2005     Politik Kebudayaan di Dunia Seni Rupa Kontemporer:  A. D. Pirous dan Medan Seni Indonesia. (Cultural Politics in the World of Contemporary Art:  A. D. Pirous and the Field of Indonesian Art.) Yogyakarta: Universitas Sanata Dharma and Cemeti Art Foundation for Retorik Press.  [A collection of my essays on Indonesian art along with a preface.]

2005     Spirited Politics: Religion and Public Life in Contemporary Southeast Asia.  Southeast Asian Publications Series, Cornell.  (co-edited with Andrew Willford)

2002     A. D. Pirous: Vision, Faith, and a Journey in Indonesian Art, 1955-2002.  Bandung: Yayasan Serambi Pirous. (co-authored with Mamannoor). Published in English and Indonesian.

1996     Showing Signs of Violence: The Cultural Politics of a Twentieth-Century Headhunting Ritual.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Winner of the 1998 Harry J. Benda Prize in Southeast Asian Studies.  Awarded by the Association for Asian Studies.


Articles, Book Chapters, and Catalogues

forth.    “Cult, Cosmos, and Craft at a Thai Art Academy.” The Australian Journal of Anthropology. (co-authored with Anthony Lovenheim Irwin and Kirin Narayan).

2024    “Vissakamma Worship and the Ethical Life of Buddhist Artisans in Thailand.”  Journal of Buddhist Ethics 31:166-180.

2022     “Readers of the ‘Lost’ Purana: Mythopolitics and Suthar Caste Identity in Gujarat.”  Religion 52(4): 576-594. Special issue on “Political Deification.” Guest editors: Moumita Sen and Kenneth Bo Nielsen.  (co-authored with Kirin Narayan)

2022     “Ethics, Images, and Things on the Move.”  Encyclopedia of Religious Ethics, Volume 3, edited by William Schweiker, David Claremont, Elizabeth Bucar, and Maria Antonaccio, pp. 1141-1150.   Malden: Wiley.

2022     “Technophany and Its Publics: Artisans, Technicians, and the Rise of Vishwakarma Worship in India.”  Journal of Asian Studies 81(1):1-19. February 2022.  (co-authored with Kirin Narayan)

2021     “A Gathering of Close Friends: A Few Thoughts about ‘Above Calligraphy.’” (“Sebuah Perkumpulan Para Sahabat: Beberapa Pikiran Tentang ‘Di atas Kaligrafi.’”) Di Atas Kaligrafi/Above Calligraphy, pp 10-15.  Bandung: Serambi Pirous.

2020     “The Theopolitics of Art: Qur’anic Objects and Their Publics in Indonesia.” In Political Theologies and Development in Asia, edited by Giuseppe Bolotta, Michael Feener, and Philip Fountain. Pp. 87-103. University of Manchester Press.

2020     “After All: In Place of an Afterword.”  Indonesia 109 (April 2020): 105-112. Special Issue of Indonesia in honor of Mary Margaret Steedly, guest edited by Patricia Spyer, Karen Strassler, and Smita Lahiri.

2020     Contributor: Photographs of Vishwakarma Worship in India.  In Ways of Worship: A visual chronicle of ritual and religion in India, edited by Radhika Chopra.  New Delhi: Penguin.

2018     “Tools and World-Making in the Worship of Vishwakarma.” In South Asian Folklore in Transition: Crafting New Horizons, edited by Frank Korom and Leah K. Lowthorp, pp. 75-89. New York: Routledge.  (co-authored with Kirin Narayan) [reprint; see 2017 below].

2018     Tarun Mitra Memorial Lecture (2017): “Vishwakarma Across India and Beyond: Tools and World-Making.”  The Dawn 7(21):6-15. Published by the National Council of Education, Kolkata, Bengal.  April 2018. (co-authored with Kirin Narayan)

2018     “Vishwakarma: God of Technology.” In Technology and India: Spaces, Practices and Authorities. eds. Knut A. Jacobsen and Kristina Myrvold, pp. 8-24  Routledge: New York.  (co-authored with Kirin Narayan)

2017     “Tools and World-Making in the Worship of Vishwakarma.” South Asian History and Culture Volume 8(4):478-492.  Special issue on “Crafting New Horizons: South Asian Folklore in Transition,” guest-edited by Frank Korom.  (co-authored with Kirin Narayan)

2016     “No Ethics without Things.” Journal of Religious Ethics 44(1):51-67 (Special issue on “Visual Ethics”)

2015     “Companionable Art and a Companionable Conscience: Reflections on the Late Style of A. D. Pirous.”  In Verses of the Universe  (A Catalogue for the Asian Masters Series Solo Exhibition: A. D. Pirous 16 March – 11 April, University of Malaya Art Gallery). Serambi Pirous, Bandung.  pp. 21-24.

2015     “A. D. Pirous.” In Making Connections: Southeast Asian Art @ ANU.  Edited by David Williams. Research School of the Humanities and the Arts, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University.

2014     “Ethics, Iconoclasm, and Qur’anic Art  in Indonesia.” Reprint of George (2009; below) in Cultural Anthropology: Curated Collection 19 – Everyday Islam, edited by Kathryn Zyskowski.

2014     “Interview with Kenneth George about ‘Ethics, Iconoclasm, and Qur’anic Art  in Indonesia.’” In Cultural Anthropology: Curated Collection 19 – Everyday Islam, edited by Kathryn Zyskowski.

2014     “Putting the Quirks and Murk to Work: Disciplinary Reflections on ‘The State of Indonesian Studies.’”  In Producing Indonesia: The State of the Field of Indonesian Studies, edited by Eric Tagliacozzo, pp. 33-46 (Ithaca: Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2014).

2012     “Lifewriting and the Making of Companionable Objects: Reflections on Sunaryo’s Titik Nadir.” In Locating Life Stories: Beyond East-West Binaries in (Auto)Biographical Studies, edited by Maureen Perkins, pp. 35-54.  Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

2012     “The Cultural Politics of Modern and Contemporary Islamic Art in Southeast Asia.” In Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art: An Anthology, edited by Nora A. Taylor and Boreth Ly, pp. 53-68. SEAP, Cornell.

Translated and published in Indonesia as: “Politik Kultural Seni Rupa Modern dan Kontemporer Islam di Asia Tenggara: Sebuah Pedoman.” In A.D. Pirous dan Manfaat Seni Untuk Indonesia (Seminar Proceedings), Galeri Soemardja, Bandung Institute of Technology.  pp.17 – 37.

2012     “Getting Stories about Stories: Interactional Dimensions in Folk and Personal Narrative Research.” In The Sage Handbook of Interview Research, Revised 2nd Edition, edited by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein, pp. 511-524. Sage Publications.  (co-authored with Kirin Narayan).

2010     “Picturing Aceh: Violence, Religion, and a Painter’s Tale.”  In Aceh: History, Politics, Culture, ed. Arndt Graf, Susanne Schröter, and Edwin Wieringa, pp. 243-264. Singapore: ISEAS, National University Singapore Press. [reprint; see 2005 below]

2010     “Spirituality, Islam, Art, and a Multicultural Audience.”  Nigaah: Arts and Culture from South Asia 8.  Online:  Removed by censors or journal managers in Pakistan several months after web publication and no longer available.

2009     “Ethics, Iconoclasm, and Qur’anic Art in Indonesia.”  Cultural Anthropology 24(4):589-621.

2008     “Ethical Pleasure, Visual Dzikir, and Artistic Subjectivity in Contemporary Indonesia.” Material Religion 4(2):172-193.

2007     “Art and Identity Politics: Nation, Religion, Ethnicity, Elsewhere.”  In Asian and Pacific Cosmopolitans: Self and Subject in Motion, edited by Kathryn Robinson, pp. 37-59.  New York:  Palgrave.

2007     “Making Islamic Art.” Interweaving Cultures: Islam in Southeast Asia—A Guide for Teachers and Students, pp. 118-127. New York: Asia Society.

2006     “Headhunting, History, and Exchange in Upland Sulawesi.”  In On the Margins of Asia: Diversity in Asian States, ed. Charles Keyes, pp. 229-257.  Ann Arbor:  Association for Asian Studies, 2006.  [reprinted article first published in 1991; see below].

2005     “Introduction:  Religion, Modernity, and the Predicaments of Public Life in Southeast Asia.”  In Spirited Politics: Religion and Public Life in Contemporary Southeast Asia.  pp. 9-21.  Southeast Asian Publications Series, Cornell.  (co-authored with Andrew Willford).

2005     “Picturing Aceh: Violence, Religion, and a Painter’s Tale.”  In Spirited Politics: Religion and Public Life in Contemporary Southeast Asia. pp. 185-208.  Southeast Asian Publications Series, Cornell.

2004     "Violence, Culture, & the Indonesian Public Sphere: Reworking the Geertzian Legacy."  In Violence: Culture, Performance and Expression, edited by Neil L. Whitehead.  pp. 25-54. Santa Fe: SAR Press.

2004     “Unsur[e] Kaligrafi:  On Aceh, Islam, and the Terrain of Indonesian Multiculturalism.”  Jurnal Antropologi Indonesia XXVIII (No. 75): 15-21.

2003     “Visual Surprise and Visual Dzikir in the Work of A. D. Pirous.”  In Words of Faith: A Catalogue prepared for the Solo Exhibition by A. D. Pirous, Balai Seni Lukis Negara, Kuala Lumpur,  Malaysia. October 6 – 27, 2003.

2003     "Personal and Folk Narrative as Cultural Representation."  In Postmodern Interviewing, edited by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein.  pp. 449-466.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications.  (co-authored with Kirin Narayan). [reprinted chapter first published in 2001; see below].

2003     "Personal and Folk Narrative as Cultural Representation."  In Inside Interviewing, edited by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein.  pp. 123-140.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications.  (co-authored with Kirin Narayan). [reprinted chapter first published in 2001; see below].

2001     "Personal and Folk Narrative as Cultural Representation."  In Handbook of Interview Research, edited by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein.  pp. 815-832.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications.  (co-authored with Kirin Narayan).

2000     [Contributor] Weighing the Balance: Southeast Asian Studies Ten Years After. Proceedings of two SSRC meetings November 15 and December 10, 1999.  New York: Southeast Asia Program, Social Science Research Council, 2000.  pp. 30-31, 51, 56, 57.

1999     Signature Work: Bandung, 1994.  Ethnos 64(2):212-231.

1999     Objects on the Loose: Ethnographic Encounters with Unruly Artefacts--A Foreword.  Special theme issue of Ethnos (Guest Editor).  Ethnos 64(2):149-150.

1998     Designs on Indonesia's Muslim Communities.  Journal of Asian Studies 57(3):693-713.

1997     Some Things That Have Happened to The Sun After September 1965: Politics and the Interpretation of an Indonesian Painting.  In Comparative Studies in Society and History 39(4):599-634.

1996     Lyric, History, and Allegory, or the End of Headhunting Ritual in Highland Sulawesi. In Headhunting and the Social Imagination in Southeast Asia, ed. Janet Hoskins, pp. 50-89.  Stanford: Stanford University Press. [reprinted article first published 1993; see below]

1995     Violence, Solace, and Ritual: A Case Study from Island Southeast Asia.  In Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 19(2):225-260.

1993     Dark Trembling:  Ethnographic Notes on Secrecy and Concealment in Highland Sulawesi. Anthropological Quarterly 66(4):230-39.

1993     Lyric, History, and Allegory, or the End of Headhunting Ritual in Highland Sulawesi.  American Ethnologist 20(4):697-717.

1993     Music-making, Ritual, and Gender in a Southeast Asian Hill Society.  Ethnomusicology 37(1):1-27.

1991     Headhunting, History, and Exchange in Upland Sulawesi.  Journal of Asian Studies 50(3):536-64.

1990     Felling a Song with a New Axe: Writing and the Reshaping of Ritual Song Performance in Upland Sulawesi.  Journal of American Folklore 103(407):1‑23.

1978     Testimonies.  Alcheringa: Ethnopoetics 4(1):69‑83 (with Jeff Titon).

1977     Dressed in the Armor of God.  Alcheringa: Ethnopoetics 3(2):10‑31 (with Jeff Titon).


Conference and Workshop Organizer, and Curricular Development

2019     [symposium organizer] “Religion at Work: Gods, Goddesses, and Occult Powers in the Lives and Livelihoods of India’s Artisans, Technicians, and Manufacturers.”  Symposium for the 2019 South Asia Conference, October 17-20th, Madison, WI

2016     [workshop organizer] “Culture and Infrastructure: New Ethnographic Projects in Indonesia and Beyond.”  Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, April 14-15.

2010     [workshop co-organizer] “Indonesian Subjectivities in the Post-Suharto Era.”  Indonesian Studies Program, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, UCLA, May 21-22.

2010     Publishing in Journals: A Workshop. University of Colorado-Boulder, January 22; Curtin University of Technology, Perth, February 16; Australian National University, February 18.

2009     Publishing in Journals: A Workshop for Graduate Students and Faculty.  Department of Anthropology, Yale University, September 16.

2007     “Making Islamic Art.” Interweaving Cultures: Islam in Southeast Asia—A Guide for Teachers and Students, pp. 118-127. New York: Asia Society.

2007     [co-organizer] Colloquium on “Islam, Religion, and Visual Culture.”  The Visual Culture Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, November 9.

2005     [Conference Program Organizer and Chair] Bi-Annual Meeting of the American Ethnological Society.  San Diego.  March 2005.

2003     [conference organizer] “Art and Modernity in Islamic Asia.” Centers for South Asia and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison. June 22-23.

2002     [conference organizer] “Qur’anic Arts in Asia.” Centers for South Asian and Southeast Asia Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison. November 8.

1999     [conference organizer] Violence, Suffering, Image: An Interdisciplinary Conference.  University of Oregon. May 20-22.

1996     [co-organizer with Begoña Aretxaga] Graduate Workshop on Narrative and Violence, Harvard University, Spring Term 1996.


Recordings & Films

1982     "Powerhouse for God: Sacred Speech, Chant, and Song in an Appalachian Baptist Church," by Jeff Titon, American Folklore Recordings Series, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.  (Field collaborator.)


Editorial and Curatorial Boards

Editorial Board, American Ethnologist (2015-2019)

Series Co-Editor, New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies, U. Wisconsin Press (2011-13)

Editor, Journal of Asian Studies (2005-2008)

Associate Editor, Ethnos (2005-present)

Editorial Advisory Board, Ethnos (2002-present).

Associate Editor, American Ethnologist (1994-98)
Curatorial Board, Peabody Museum of Ethnology, Harvard University (1993-95)

Editorial Board, AppendX: Culture/Theory/Praxis (1993-1998)


Professional Societies

American Anthropological Association

American Association of University Professors (past)

American Ethnological Society

Asian Studies Association of Australia (past)

Association for Asian Studies

Australian Anthropological Society (past)

Society for the Anthropology of Religion (past)

Society for Cultural Anthropology

Society for Humanistic Anthropology (past)

Society for Linguistic Anthropology (past)

Society for Psychological Anthropology (past)

Society for Urban, National, and Transnational/Global Anthropology (past)


External Evaluator on Tenure & Promotion Cases


            Arizona State University  

            The Australian National University

            University of California, Berkeley

            University of California, Riverside

            University of California, Santa Cruz

            University of Colorado, Boulder

            Cornell University

            University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana

            Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences

            The Johns Hopkins University

            University of Michigan

            National University Singapore

            Northwestern University
            Ohio University

            Queens College, CUNY

            Rhode Island School of Design

            Sarah Lawrence College

            University of South Florida

            Southern Illinois University, Carbondale

            Tallinn University (Estonia)

            University of Texas at Austin

            University of Victoria (Canada)

            Yale University


External Evaluator for Anthropology Programs

            Bryn Mawr College

            Haverford College

            Leiden University (2009)

            QANU, Netherlands (2013): 

                  University of Amsterdam, Vrije University, Leiden University, University of Utrecht,
                  Raboud University Nijmegen

Research interests

Visual and material culture; ethnography of lifeworlds and everyday life; anthropology of ethics; cultural politics; religion; technology; violence; art; language; narrative; folklore.

Pragmatism; phenomenology; social theory; art history.

Island Southeast Asia; South Asia


BA (Tufts), MA (North Carolina-Chapel Hill), MA & PhD (Michigan)

External positions

Professor of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

15 Aug 199914 Feb 2013

Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Oregon

15 Jul 199614 Aug 1999

Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Harvard University

1 Aug 199015 Jul 1996

Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of South Carolina

15 Jan 199015 Jun 1990

Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Tulane University

14 Aug 198931 Dec 1990


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