Erica Bornstein

Erica Bornstein

Associate Professor

Office: Sabin 311
Phone: (414) 229-4881
Curriculum Vitae: pdf (27kb)


Ph.D., University of California, Irvine

Research Narrative:

My research focuses on the ethnographic analysis of non-profit and non-governmental organizations involved in humanitarian, development, and philanthropic endeavors.

My first book, The Spirit of Development: Protestant NGOs, Morality, and Economics in Zimbabwe (Routledge 2003; Stanford University Press 2005) is an ethnography of transnational, faith-based NGOs. Based on research I conducted in Zimbabwe, Africa in 1996-97, the project explores the politics of Christian faith in international humanitarian assistance and analyzed the significance of Christianity in the economic development of southern Africa. The book interrogates how discourses of economic development merge with discourses of faith, and questions the assumption that economic development is a move away from the logical ambiguities of mysticism toward the scientific promise of technological advancement.

I conducted my second extensive ethnographic research project in New Delhi, India in 2004-05. This research, which has been published as a book (Disquieting Gifts: Humanitarianism in New Delhi, Stanford University Press 2012), is an ethnographic analysis of sacred and secular practices of giving. Although most scholars of humanitarianism agree that sponsoring the education of an orphan or giving to beggars on an urban street is not considered in the same category as international humanitarian aid, the two forms are linked through the gift—which merges those who are excluded from resources with those who are willing and able to actively engage. Disquieting Gifts explores how economic development, charity, philanthropy, and humanitarianism, are part of a larger universe of giving marked by reciprocal exchange, social obligations with rights and entitlements, and worldly renunciation. A new space of inquiry opens when different social forms of the gift—each with their own expectations and grammar—speak to each other and are brought together in the global economy of humanitarianism.

Critically reflecting upon the anthropology of humanitarianism more broadly, Peter Redfield and I co-organized an advanced seminar at SAR and co-edited a subsequent volume: Forces of Compassion: Humanitarianism Between Ethics and Politics (School for Advanced Research Press 2011).

My current research focuses on the regulation of the voluntary sector in India. In 2012-13 I spent a sabbatical year in New Delhi, where I researched the global and legal regulation of the voluntary sector. This new ethnographic work is situated at the crossroads of non-profit sector activism and state regulation, and focuses on a voluntary sector membership organization that lobbies the government for legislative change.

Other Relevant Activities:

Faculty Coordinator, International Studies Program
Affiliated with UWM Global Studies Program, and Religious Studies Program
Elected Board member, Association for Political and Legal Anthropology (APLA), 2011-13

Courses Taught:

Anthro 102: Introduction to Anthropology - Culture and Society
Anthro 102-202: Introduction to Anthropology - Online Web
Anthro 104: Lifeways in Different Cultures
Anthro 326: Peoples and Cultures of South Asia
Anthro 351/Religious Studies 351: Anthropological Theories of Religion
Anthro 442/Global Studies 442: Humanitarianism in Global Perspective
Anthro 447/Global Studies 447: The Global Politics of Human Rights
Anthro 460: Anthropological Theory
Anthro 544/Religious Studies 544: Religious Giving in Anthropological Perspective
IS 550: International Studies Senior Seminar

Selected Publications:

2012. Disquieting Gifts: Humanitarianism in New Delhi. Ethnographic monograph, Stanford Studies in Human Rights Series, Stanford University Press, 2012. Ordering Information.

2011. Forces of Compassion: Humanitarianism Between Ethics and Politics (co-edited with Peter Redfield), School for Advanced Research Advanced Seminar Series. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press. Ordering Information.

2003. The Spirit of Development: Protestant NGOs, Morality, and Economics in Zimbabwe. Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press (paperback edition). Ordering Information. 2005 [cloth edition, New York and London: Routledge/Taylor and Francis 2003].

Forthcoming: Stories of Poverty in India: an ethnographer reviews Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, American Ethnologist, 2014: 41(1).

2012. Religious Giving Outside the Law in New Delhi, In Sacred Aid, Michael Barnett and Janice Stein (eds). Oxford University Press.

2012. Volunteer Experience, In What Matters? Ethnographies of Value in a Not-So Secular Age. Courtney Bender and Ann Taves (eds). Columbia University Press.

2009. "The Impulse of Philanthropy," Cultural Anthropology, Vol 24(4): 622-651.

2007. Harmonic dissonance: reflections on dwelling in the field. Ethnos 72(4): 483-508.

2007. A vision of the world. In Michel Feher, Gaëlle Krikorian and Yates McKee (eds), Non-governmental Politics, pp. 669-671. New York: Zone Books/MIT Press.

2007. Faith, Liberty, and the Individual in Humanitarian Assistance. In Michel Feher, Gaëlle Krikorian and Yates McKee (eds), Non-governmental Politics, pp. 658-667. New York: Zone Books/MIT Press..

2006. Rituals without Final Acts: Prayer and Success in World Vision Zimbabwe's Humanitarian Work. In Matthew Engelke and Matt Tomlinson (eds), The Limits of Meaning: Case Studies in the Anthropology of Christianity, pp. 85-104. Oxford, UK and New York: Berghahn Books.

2006. No Return: A Brief Typology of Philanthropy and the Sacred in New Delhi. In Keishin Inaba and Ruben Habito (eds.), The Politics of Altruism: Caring and Religion in a Global Perspective, pp. 165-179. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press.

2006. Charitable Choice: L'humanitarisme et les Politiques de la Foi. In Michel Feher (ed.), Politique Non Governementale, Vacarme No. 34 Hiver 2006, Numéro Spécial, pp. 189-193.

2006. Une Vision Du Monde World Vision (Etas-Unis): Un Portrait World Vision. In Michel Feher (ed.), Politique Non Governementale, Vacarme No. 34 Hiver 2006, Numéro Spécial, pp. 194-195.

2005. Transcending Politics through the Kingdom of God and Free Markets. In Tim Kelsall and Jim Igoe (eds), Between a Rock and a Hard Place: African NGOs, Donors, and the State. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.