Keith McNeal

Keith McNeal

Assistant Professor
Comparative Cultural Studies
Ph.D., Emory University

233 McElhinney Hall

Biographical Summary

I am a cultural anthropologist and comparative religionist with specialization in Caribbean ethnology and Atlantic history. My first book is a comparative study of the history and anthropology of African and Hindu religions in Trinidad and Tobago, where I have been doing research and living off and on since 1997. I am recently completing a project reconstructing the history and politics of Indo-Trinidadian mortuary ritual, materials from which I will be drawing upon to produce my first photographic exhibition. In addition to an enduring interest in ritual and performance studies -- as evident in early work on drag performance in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, as well as more recent work on the embodied symbolism and visual cultures of trance performance and spirit mediumship in the southern Caribbean -- I have recently begun working on a new book project concerning the politics of sexuality and citizenship in Trinidad and Tobago. In 2011-2, I was a Fulbright Scholar affiliated with the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies.

Primary Research & Teaching Interests

Sociocultural anthropology; comparative religion; ritual and performance studies; sexuality and citizenship; globalization and multiculturalism; neoliberalism and political culture; Caribbean ethnology and the Americas in comparative perspective; African and South Asian diaspora studies; visual culture.


graduate study

    • 1994 - 2004 |Emory University, Ph.D., Anthropology (2004), incl. Certificate in Psychoanalytic Studies, Robert A. Paul (Advisor), Dissertation: Ecstasy in Exile: Divinity, Power, and Performance in two Trinidadian Possession Religions
    • 1996 - 1998 | Emory Psychoanalytic Institute, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine, Emory University
    • 1997 | Emory University, M.A., Anthropology
    • 1994 | Cornell University, Center for South Asian Studies (Intensive Summer Program)

undergraduate study

  • 1990 - 1994 | Boston University, Department of Religion, B.A., Summa Cum Laude
  • 1992 (Fall)| Antioch College Buddhist Studies Abroad Program, Bodhgaya, Bihar, India
  • 1988 - 1990 | Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, Biology & Environmental Engineering



2011, Trance and Modernity in the Southern Caribbean: African and Hindu Popular Religions in Trinidad and Tobago, University Press of Florida’s “New World Diasporas” Series.


2012, “Seeing the Eyes of God in Human Form: Iconography and Impersonation in African and Hindu Traditions of Trance Performance in the Southern Caribbean,” Material Religion, 8(4): 490-519.

1999, “Behind the Make-Up: Gender Ambivalence and the Double-Bind of Gay Selfhood in Drag Performance,” Ethos 27(3): 1-36. (1998 Richard Condon Award for best graduate student paper in Psychological Anthropology.)

Book Chapters

2013 (in press), “Indo-Caribbean Hindu Healing Traditions: History, Sociology, Praxis” (primary author – co-authored with Kumar Mahabir & Paul Younger), for Caribbean Healing Traditions: Implications for Health and Mental Health, eds., P. Sutherland, R. Moodley, & B. Chevannes, New York: Routledge.

2010, “Pantheons as Mythistorical Archives: Pantheonization and Remodeled Iconographies in two Southern Caribbean Possession Religions,” in Activating the Past: History and Memory in the Black Atlantic, Andrew Apter and Lauren Derby, eds., Cambridge Scholars Press, pp. 185-244.

2003, “Doing the Mother's Caribbean Work: on Shakti and Society in Contemporary Trinidad,” in Encountering Kali: In the Margins, At the Center, In the West, Rachel Fell McDermott and Jeffrey Kripal, eds., Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 223-248.

1999, “Affecting Experience: toward a Biocultural Model of Human Emotion,” in Biocultural Approaches to the Emotions, Alexander L. Hinton, ed., Cambridge University Press, pp. 215-255.

1996, “Tongues Aflame: Pentecostal and Charismatic Georgians on Fire for Jesus,” in Religions of Atlanta: Religious Diversity in the Centennial Olympic City, Gary Laderman, ed., Scholars Press, pp. 139-155.

Reference Volumes

2013a (in press), “Shakti Puja (Kali Puja, Kali Ma Puja, Kali Mai Puja) – Trinidad,” in Encyclopedia of Caribbean Religions, Patrick Taylor and Frederick Ivor Case, eds., Champaign: University of Illinois Press (peer reviewed).

2013b (in press), “Firepass Ceremony – Trinidad,” in Encyclopedia of Caribbean Religions, Patrick Taylor and Frederick Ivor Case, eds., Champaign: University of Illinois Press (peer reviewed).

2004a, “Sidney W. Mintz” (pp. 354-356), in Biographical Dictionary of Anthropology, Vered Amit, ed., London: Routledge.

2004b, “Daniel A. Segal” (p. 454), in Biographical Dictionary of Anthropology, Vered Amit, ed., London: Routledge.

Works in Progress

forthcoming, “Death and the Problem of Orthopraxy in Caribbean Hinduism: Reconsidering the Politics and Poetics of Indo-Trinidadian Mortuary Ritual,” for Passages and Afterworlds: Death and Mortuary Ritual in the Caribbean, eds. Yanique Hume & Maarit Forde, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, book chapter.

in progress, “Trance and the Dilemmas of Institutionalization in Indo-Trinidadian Kali Worship: Reflections on the ‘Third Wave’ of Postcolonial Shakti Temples,” journal article based on upcoming conference paper.

in progress, new book manuscript on the politics of sexuality and citizenship in Trinidad and Tobago and beyond begun as Fulbright Scholar at Univ. of the West Indies.

Grants, Fellowships and Awards

2011-2, Fulbright Scholar Fellowship, $50,000 – Research and Teaching Award – University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad – affiliated with the Institute for Gender and Development Studies.

2010, Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award, UCSD, Graduate Student Association.

2008-9, Wenner-Gren Richard Carley Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship - $40,000

2008, Hellman Fellowship, UCSD - $6,000

2007-8, Faculty Fellowship, “Transborder Interventions, Transcontinental Archives,” Center for the Humanities, UCSD - $5,000

2006-7, Faculty Career Development Program Fellowship for Junior Faculty, UCSD, Winter Qtr. - $5,500

2004-5; 2007-8, Faculty Fellowship, Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at University of California, San Diego - $6,000

2001 - 2002, Emory University Dean's Teaching Fellowship - $15,000

1999 - 2000, Visiting Research Fellowship, Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social & Economic Research, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago

2001 - 2003; 1994 - 1995, Emory University Graduate Fellowship - $12,500/year

1998, cost-shared Fulbright-Hays and Social Science Research Council (IDRF/SSRC) dissertation fieldwork funding awards - $16,685

1998, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research Grant for dissertation fieldwork - $12,500

1998, Emory University Fund for Internationalization, Dissertation Research Award - $1,000

1995 - 1998, National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship - $42,500

1996, Andrew Mellon Foundation summer research grant award, administered through Department of Anthropology, Emory University - $1,500

1994, Title VI Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS), administered through Cornell University Center for South Asian Studies

1997, 1st Annual Richard G. Condon Student Paper Prize from the Society for Psychological Anthropology

1994, Phi Beta Kappa


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