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Skidmore College
Anthropology Department
Sónia Silva

Sónia Silva

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Office: Dana Science Center 354
Tel. (518) 580-5418
Office hours:

Sónia Silva is a social and cultural anthropologist with two years of ethnographic fieldwork in northwest Zambia and extensive experience in museum research. Her research interests span the fields of ritual and religion, material culture, violence, and museums, and her publications include the book Along an African Border: Angolan Refugees and Their Divination Baskets (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011). Currently, she is preparing a new book project dealing with the representation of Africa in anthropology museums. 

Click here to visit Sónia Silva’s page.



  • Ph.D., Sociocultural Anthropology, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1999
  • Master of Arts, Sociocultural Anthropology, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1995
  • Licenciatura (BA), Social Anthropology, ISCTE-University Institute of Lisbon, 1991


  • Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Zambia and Angola


  • Ritual and religion; Art and materiality; Violence; Embodiment; Museums; Social theory


  • Africa in Stereotypes (SSP 101-001)
  • Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (AN 101)
  • Sub-Saharan Africa from a Cultural Perspective (AN 227)
  • History of Anthropological Thought (AN 270)
  • Reimagining Museums (AN 331)
  • Ritual & Religion (AN 343)
  • Rethinking Materiality: The Anthropology of Stuff (AN 346)



  • Along an African Border: Angolan Refugees and Their Divination Baskets.
    Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (Contemporary Ethnography Series), 2011. Pp. 192.
  • Vidas em Jogo: Cestas de Adivinhação e Refugiados Angolanos na Zâmbia.
    Foreword by Michael Jackson. Lisbon: Instituto de Ciências Sociais, 2004. Pp. 237 [in Portuguese]
  • A Vez dos Cestos/ Time for Baskets. Lisbon: Museu Nacional de Etnologia, 2003. Pp. 186 [in Portuguese and English].
  • Fetish, Idol, Superstition. In progress.
  • Boundary Situations. In Existential Anthropology in the Study of Religion, eds. Devaka Premawardhana and Don Seeman. Edited volume under review.
  • Touch and Other Senses: Feeling the Truth in Basket Divination. In Religion and Touch, ed. by Christina Welch and Amy Whitehead. Sheffield, UK: Equinox. 2021.
  • Taking Divination Seriously: From Mumbo Jumbo to Worldviews and Ways of Life. Religions 9 (12): 1-9. Special issue edited by Ann Taves and Michael Kinsella. 2018.
  • Time, Prediction and the Future in Retrospective Divination: A case from Zambia [in French]. Anthropologie et Sociétés 42 (2-3): 107-126. Special issue edited by Frédéric Laugrand and Lionel Simon. 2018.
  • Witchcraft and the Gift: Killing and Healing in Northwest Zambia. In  Asking and Giving in Religious and Humanitarian Endeavors, ed. Frederick Klaits, 25-45. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 2017.
  • Art and Fetish in the Anthropology Museum. Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief 13 (1) (2017): 77-96.
  • Objects and Objectivity in Divination. Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief 12 (4) (2016): 507–509.
  • Political Evil: Witchcraft from the Perspective of the Bewitched. In Evil in Africa: Encounters with the Everyday, eds. William C. Olsen and Walter E. A. van Beek, 29-42. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2015.
  • Mobility and Immobility in the Life of an Amputee. In What is Existential Anthropology? Eds. Michael Jackson and Albert Piette, 125-154. Oxford: Berghahn Books. 2015.
  • Mind, Body and Spirit in Basket Divination: An Integrative Way of Knowing. Religions 5 (4) (2014): 1175-1187.
  • Remarks on Similarity in Ritual Classification: Affliction, Divination, and Object Animation. History of Religions 53 (2) (2013): 151-169.
  • Reification and Fetishism: Processes of Transformation. Theory, Culture & Society 30 (1) (2013): 79-98.
  • Creativity Revisited: Narration and Embodiment in African Art. Museum Anthropology Review 6 (1) (2012):1-22.
  • Mothers of Solitude: Childlessness and Intersubjectivity in the Upper Zambezi. Anthropology and Humanism 34 (2) (2009):179-202.
  • Mães da Solidão: Socialidade, Empatia e Emoções no Sul da África Central. Etnográfica 9 (2) (2005):313-330 [in Portuguese].
  • The Birth of a Divination Basket. In Chokwe! Art and Initiation among the Chokwe and Related Peoples, edited by Manuel Jordán, 141-151. Munich: Prestel, 1998.
  • “Time Interferences or Time Elasticity: An invited comment on “Haunting, Dutching, and Interference: Provocations for the Anthropology of Time,” by David Zeitlyn.  In Current Anthropology,  61 (4), 2020.
  • The Expert Interpreter. Comment on Werbner, Richard. 2015. Divination's Grasp: Encounters With the Almost Said. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. (Contribution to book symposium organized by Michael Lambek, University of Toronto). HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6 (3) (2016): 425-431.
  • Material, Embodied and Lived Religion: Basket Divination in Practice and Theory, Web blog post (3,873 words essay). Material Religions, 4 May 2016. Web.
  • Review of Chiefs, Priests, and Praise-Singers: History, Politics, and Land Ownership in Northern Ghana, by Wyatt MacGaffey (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013). CELAAN 12 (1-2) (2015):167-170.
  • Review of Makishi: Masked Characters of Zambia, by Manuel Jordán (Los Angeles: Fowler Museum at UCLA, 2006). Museum Anthropology Review 4 (1) (2010).
  • Personhood. The Oxford Encyclopedia of African Thought, edited by F. Abiola Irele and Biodun Jeyifo, 2:215-126. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Basketry: Africa. African Folklore: An Encyclopedia, edited by Philip Peek and Kwesi Yankah, 20-23. New York: Routledge, 2004.
  • Review of The Underneath of Things: Violence, History, and the Everyday in Sierra Leone, by Mariane C. Ferme (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 2001). American Ethnologist 29 (3) (2002):759-760.
  • Review of Questioning Misfortune: The Pragmatics of Uncertainty in Eastern Uganda, by Susan R. Whyte (Cambridge University Press, 1997). American Ethnologist 28 (1) (2001):216-217.
  • A Vez dos Cestos/ Time for Baskets, an ethnographic exhibition curated for the National Museum of Ethnology, Lisbon, 2003.
  • American Philosophical Society Franklin Grant, 2017
  • Research Associate, Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 2004–present
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia, Portugal, 2001–2004
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, Smithsonian Institution, 1999–2000
  • Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, Wenner-Gren Foundation, 1995–1996
  • Doctoral Research Fellowship, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Portugal, 1994–1996
  • Foreign Fulbright Fellow, Fulbright-Hays, 1992–1994