Dr. Laurel Kendall (Ph.D. with distinction, Columbia University 1979) is Curator of Asian Ethnographic Collections and Chair of the AMNH's Anthropology Division as well as Adjunct (full) Professor at Columbia University. Kendall's long acquaintance with South Korean life began in 1970 as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer where a chance encounter with female shamans led her to subsequent anthropological fieldwork. Her recently published Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion (University of Hawaii Press, 2009) offers a thirty year perspective on people described in Shamans, Housewives, and other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life (1985) and The Life and Hard Times of a Korean Shaman (1988). In 2007 the International Society for Shamanic research gave Kendall a lifetime achievement award.
Kendall has also written on gendered perceptions of tradition and modernity, most notably in Getting Married in Korea (1996) and as the editor of Under Construction: The Gendering of Modernity, Class, and Consumption in the Republic of Korea (2002). Recent work includes research on popular religious revivals in Vietnam and sacred objects in modern East Asian markets. A special edition of Asian Ethnology (Volume 63-2, 2008) on this subject, guest edited by Kendall, brings together the work of a joint research project with the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.
At AMNH, Kendall has curated several exhibitions, including Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids (2007) and Vietnam: Journeys of Body, Mind, and Spirit (2003), a unique collaboration between AMNH and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology which earned Kendall a Friendship Medal from the Government of Vietnam. Kendall is editor of a monograph series on the "Contemporary Anthropology of Religion" sponsored by the Society for the Anthropology of Religion, American Anthropological Association (AAA), and was recently President of the Society for East Asian Anthropology (SEAA).