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

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 442/Global Studies 442: Humanitarianism in Global Perspective
Anthro 447/Global Studies 447: The Global Politics of Human Rights
Anthro 460: Anthropological Theory
Anthro 461: Ethnography of Institutions
Anthro 544/Religious Studies 544: Religious Giving in Anthropological Perspective
IS 550: International Studies Senior Seminar: Law and Society

Select Publications:


2012. Disquieting Gifts: Humanitarianism in New Delhi. Ethnographic monograph, Stanford Studies in Human Rights Series, Stanford University Press, 2012. Ordering Information.
Winner of the ARNOVA (Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action) Outstanding Book on Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research 2013.

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].


2014 “Stories of Poverty in India: an ethnographer reviews Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” American Ethnologist, 2014: 41(1). Pp. 180-186. PDF (150kb)

2012 “Religious Giving Outside the Law in New Delhi” Sacred Aid, Michael Barnett and Janice Stein (eds). Oxford University Press. PDF (3.3mb)

2012 “Volunteer Experience” 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), November. Pp. 622-651. PDF (540kb)

2007 “Harmonic Dissonance: Reflections on Dwelling in the Field,” Ethnos. Vol 72(4). December. Pp. 483-508. PDF (1mb)

2007 “Faith, Liberty, and the Individual in Humanitarian Assistance.” Non-governmental Politics, Michel Feher, Gaëlle Krikorian and Yates McKee (editor), New York: Zone Books/MIT Press. Pp. 658-667. PDF (4.6mb)

2006 “Rituals without Final Acts: Prayer and Success in World Vision Zimbabwe’s Humanitarian Work.” The Limits of Meaning: Case Studies in the Anthropology of Christianity. Engelke Matthew and Tomlinson, Matt (eds). Oxford, UK and New York: Berghahn Books. Pp. 85-104. PDF (800kb)

2002 “Developing Faith: Theologies of Economic Development in Zimbabwe,” The Journal of Religion in Africa, Vol. 32(1). Pp. 4-31. PDF (1.1mb)

2001 “Child Sponsorship, Evangelism, and Belonging in the Work of World Vision Zimbabwe,” American Ethnologist, Vol. 28(3), August. Pp. 595-622. PDF (1.3mb)

2001 “The Verge of Good and Evil: Christian NGOs and Economic Development in Zimbabwe,” Political and Legal Anthropology Review. Vol 24(1), May. Pp. 59-77. PDF (870kb)