I received my training as a cultural anthropologist at Stanford, Oxford, and the University of Chicago and have been teaching at the University of Alberta since 1991. I have done ethnographic research on Chinese popular religion in Malaysia and Singapore, evangelical Christianity in Singapore, religious and cultural pilgrimage to the Daoist temple complex at Wudang Mountain, China, and on contemporary tea culture in Fujian and Zhejiang Provinces. I also have conducted archival research in Singapore, Malaysia, and England on the history of the Open Brethren movement in Singapore and Penang, Malaysia, and a new book Christian Circulations: Global Christianity and the Local Church in Penang and Singapore, 1819-2000 is now forthcoming in 2020. Previous publications include Rites of Belonging: Memory, Modernity and Identity in a Malaysian Chinese Community (Stanford University Press, 2004) and The Way that Lives in the Heart: Chinese Popular Religion and Spirit Mediums in Penang, Malaysia (Stanford University Press, 2006). Both have been reprinted by NUS Press in Singapore (2009, 2011).
Together with my graduate students Fei Wu, Yan Jie, and Ma Junhong, I have been conducting research on "Material Identity: The Anthropology of Contemporary Chinese Tea Culture" with support from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Currently I am working on a book tentatively titled Bohea: The Modern Invention of Wuyi Mountain Tea.
From 2002-2007, I did research on the globalization of Daoism, which focused on
religious and cultural pilgrimage from Singapore to the Daoist temple
complex at Wudang Mountain. I plan to make this research the basis of a fieldwork memoir that both reflects on the paradoxes of modern Daoism, a religious whose sacred sites are promoted as historical sites and tourist destinations, and a reflection on the challenge of adapting ethnographic research methods to study of modernity and its impacts.
I teach courses in the History of Anthropological Theory as well as contemporary anthropological theory. Recently taught courses include the Anthropology of Modernity, Historical Anthropology, and Urban Anthropology. As a development of my research interest in tea culture, I have been teaching courses on the Anthropology of Food (Anthr 372) and on the Anthropology of Asian Food (Anth 278). In my advanced seminar courses I promote the development of observational, research, and writing skills for both advanced undergraduate and graduate students.
Since 2009, with support from the Faculty of Arts and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (2009 & 2010), the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, 2010-13), and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, I have been doing research focusing on contemporary Chinese tea culture. At the same time that tea farmers and manufacturers present their specialty teas as heritage and fine craft production, they also make use of technology to meet the demands of a mass market. The research also explores the use of museums and innovative performances (from a 5D movie to outdoor spectacular performances) to promote and celebrate famous tea producing regions.
2002 - 2014
In China the Daoist religion is recognized as heritage and framed within historical narratives for the benefit of tourists. But it also is a living religious tradition whose practitioners are increasingly linked to a global network of supporters. These include diasporic Chinese in Taiwan and Southeast Asia (but also an international network of scholars, artists, martial artists, and European and American converts.
In this program of research, I investigated the ways that the Chinese government has reformed and modernized official Daoism including developing its global presence. Between 2002 and 2007, I conducted ethnographic research at the Daoist temple complex at Wudang Mountain and I also did research in Singapore and Malaysia, focusing on documenting the renewal and expansion of Wudang Mountain’s regional, national, and international linkages. I attended and presented papers at three International Daoist Forums in 2007, 2011, and 2014 and have analyzed those events in an unpublished 2015 conference paper that is now under revision.