Laurel Kendall, Ph.D.

Curator, Asian Ethnology, Curator-in-Charge of African and Pacific Ethnology

Professor, Richard Gilder Graduate School



  • Columbia University, Ph.D., 1979
  • Columbia University, M.Phil, 1977
  • Columbia University, M.A., 1976
  • University of California, Berkeley, A.B., 1969

Research Interests

A scholar of popular religion and its material manifestations in East and Southeast Asia, Dr. Laurel Kendall’s recent work concerns the production and consumption of sacred objects in contemporary market economies, with fieldwork in South Korea, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Bali. In Mediums and Magical Things: Statues, Paintings, and Masks in Asian Places (University of California Press, 2021) she describes how material images—like the bodies of shamans and spirit mediums—give material form and presence to otherwise invisible entities, and how sometimes these objects are understood to be enlivened, agentive on their own terms. This book explores how magical images are expected to work with the shamans and spirit mediums who tend and use them. It considers how such things are fabricated, marketed, cared for, disposed of, and sometimes transformed into art-market commodities and museum artifacts.  

 Fieldwork in several settings becomes a wide-ranging conversation that yields surprising results when questions posed by experiences in one place are answered in another.  

Kendall began a long acquaintance with South Korean life in 1970 as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, when a chance encounter with female shamans led her to subsequent anthropological fieldwork. Her Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion (University of Hawaii Press, 2009) offers a 30-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 2010, Korean colleagues awarded Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF the first Yim Suk Jay Prize recognizing a work of anthropology about Korea by a non-Korean.  In 2007 the International Society for Shamanic research gave Dr. Kendall a lifetime achievement award. A collaboration with Korean scholars Jongsung Yang and Yul Soo Yoon resulted in God Pictures in Korean Contexts: The Ownership and Meaning of Shaman Paintings (2015).

Cover image for Laurel Kendall's God Pictures in Korean Contexts

  Kendall has also written on gender, 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) and Consuming Korean Tradition in Early and Late Modernity: Commodification, Tourism, and Performance (2011).

At the American Museum of Natural History, 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 with the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology that earned Kendall a Friendship Medal from the Government of Vietnam. Kendall is a former President of the Association for Asian Studies (2016-2017).



Division of Anthropology

Richard Gilder Graduate School

Laurel Kendall's Research

Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids

Vietnam: Journeys of Body, Mind, and Spirit

Profile on ResearchGate

Profile on


Recent and Major Publications

2018. Kendall, L. How is a shaman’s altar like a motor?  Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft special issue on Altars and Shrines 13(2): 267–285.

2018. Kendall, L.  Hyung Il Pai. (obituary) Anthropology News website, October 1, 2018. [DOI: 10.1111/AN.983]

2018. Kendall, L. Korean Shamans. In S. de Gaia (editor), Encyclopedia of women and world religions: 39–41. New York: Barnes and Noble Educator.

2018. Kendall, L. Special issue dedicated to the memory of Karen McCarthy Brown (1942–2015): Shrines and Memories. Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 13(2): 153–154.

2018.  Kendall, L., M.N. Muchlinski, A.S. Hammond, A.S. Deane, M. Purcell, H.W. Hemingway, G. Hanke, J. Pastor, M. Garrosa, and A. Hartstone-Rose. The ligamentum teres femoris in orangutans. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 167: 684–690.

2018.  Hasinoff, E., and L. Kendall Making spirits, making art: nat carving and contemporary painting in Pre-Transition Myanmar. Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief, Fall 2018.

2018. Yuanxie, S., and L. Kendall. Who miniaturizes China? Treaty port souvenirs from Ningbo. In: D. Brunero and S.V. Puig (editors), Life in Treaty Port China and Japan: 217–245. New York: Springer Press.

2017. Kendall, L. Things fall apart: material religion and the problem of decay. Journal of Asian Studies 76 (4): 861–886.

2017. Kendall, L. Shamans, mountains, and shrines: thinking with electricity in the Republic of Korea. Shaman 25 (1 and 2): 15–21.

2017. Kendall, L. Shamans, bodies, and sex: misreading a Korean ritual. In C.B. Brettell and C.F. Sargent (editors), Gender in cross-cultural perspective. 7th edition (originally published in 4th edition, 2005). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

2017. Kendall, L. The old shaman. In A. Mátéffy and G. Szabados (editors), Shamanhood and mythology: archaic techniques of ecstasy and current techniques of research, In honor of Mihály Hoppál, celebrating his 75th birthday: 223–230. Budapest: Hungarian Association for the Academic Study of Religions.

2015. Kendall, L., J. Yang, and Y.S. Yoon Gods Pictures in Korean Contexts: The Ownership and Meaning of Shaman Paintings. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

2015. Kendall, L. and J. Yang. “What is an animated image? Korean shaman paintings as objects of ambiguity.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (2): 153-175.

2015. Kendall, L. Can Commodities Be Sacred? Material Religion in Seoul and Hanoi. In P. van der Veer (editor), Handbook of Religion and the Asian City. Oakland, CA: University of California Press. 367–384

2015. Kendall, L. A Most Singular and Solitary Expeditionist: Berthold Laufer Collecting China.In J.A. Bell and E.L Hasinoff (eidtors), The Anthropology of Expeditions: Travel, Visualities, Afterlives. Hasinoff. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 60-90.

2011. Consuming Korean Tradition in Early and Late Modernity (ed.). Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

2009. Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

2004. With Alexia Bloch. The Museum at the End of the World: Travels in the Post-Soviet Russian Far East. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

2003. Co-edited with Igor Krupnik. Constructing Cultures Then and Now: Celebrating of Franz Boas and the Jesup North Pacific Expedition. Contributions to Circumpolar Anthropology, 4. Washington DC: Arctic Studies Center.

2003. Co-edited with Nguyen Van Huy. Vietnam: Journeys of Body, Mind, and Spirit. Berkeley: University of California Press.

2001. Under Construction: The Gendering of Modernity, Class and Consumption in the Republic of Korea (ed.). Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

1996. Getting Married in Korea: of Gender, Morality, and Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press.

1994. Co-edited with Charles F. Keyes and Helen Hardacre. Asian Visions of Authority: Religion and the Modern States of East and Southeast Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

1988. The Life and Hard Times of a Korean Shaman: of Tales and the Telling of Tales. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

1985. Shamans, Housewives, and other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

Complete list of Laurel Kendall's Publications

Teaching Experience

Faculty Appointments

  • Adjunct Professor, Columbia University, since 1990
  • Special Lecturer, Academy of Korean Studies, Seoul, Korea, 2006
  • Visiting Professor, Center for East Asian Studies, University of Pennsylvania. 2000
  • Visiting Professor, L'Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Paris, 1999
  • Visiting Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Southern California, 1988 Adjunct Assistant Professor, East Asian Studies Program, NYU, 1986-1988
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures, University of Kansas, 1981-1982

Courses Taught

  • Exhibition Culture: Politics and Practices of Museum Exhibitions, Anthropology Department, Columbia University. Spring 2011
  • Korean Society, Museum Anthropology, Women, Power, and the State in East Asia, The Korean Shaman Lens, Popular Religion in East Asian Society. Program in Anthropology, CUNY, 1995-present

Graduate Advisees

Graduate Committees