Campus Directory: James MacKenzie

University of Lethbridge

James MacKenzie
Anthropology Department
Office: A864 (University Hall)
Phone: (403) 329-2599


BA (Anthropology), University of Alberta; MA (Anthropology), University of Alberta; PhD (Anthropology), SUNY Albany


Anthropology of religion, Linguistic anthropology, Mesoamerica, Maya, Ethnography, Transnational migration, Weberian social theory, Shamanism, Ethnohistory

Research Areas

Transnational migration Guatemala/USA, Religion and ethnic identity, Ethnic activism, Ethnonationalism, Ethnography of San Andres Xecul, Guatemala

Previous Research Areas

Religious syncretism, Maya ethnohistory, Religious change in Guatemala, Ethnic politics, Nationalism and ethnicity

Alternate Languages

Spanish, K’iche’ Maya, French (reading)

Selected Publications


2016 Indigenous Bodies, Maya Minds: Religion and Modernity in a Transnational K'iche' Community. University Press of Colorado

Articles, Book Chapters and Encyclopedia entries:

2021 "Shaman, Christian, Bureaucrat, Cop: Maya Responses to Modern Entanglements" In Contemporary Indigenous Cosmologies and Pragmatics (Françoise Dussart and Sylvie Poirier eds.), University of Alberta Press.

2021 "Repensando a San Simón, el sincretismo y la autoridad antropológica" Maya America: Journal of Essays, Commentary, and Analysis: 3(3): 167-191

2018 "Maya Religion/Spirituality" Encyclopedia of Latin American Religions. Henri Gooren ed. Springer

2017 "Politics and Pluralism in the Círculo Sagrado: the Scope and Limits of Pan-Indigenous Spirituality in Guatemala and Beyond." International Journal of Latin American Religions 1(2): 1-23

2016 "The state of rights and multiculturalism in 21st century Guatemala: National and local contexts" in Guatemala: Gobierno, Gobernabilidad, Poder Local y Recursos Naturales (Gema Sánchez Madero and Rubén Sánchez Madero eds.) Valencia: Tirant lo Blanch.

2015 "The Mayan Pope and his Competition: Local, National and Transnational Representations the 2012 Phenomenon" Anthropologica 57(2): 367-381

2014 "Shamanism in Motion, Pentecostalism on Hold, and Maya Mormonism: Identity and Community in Transnational K'iche Migration" Nova Religio 18(2): 45-66

2014 "An Interstital Maya: The Life, Legacy and Heresies of Padre Tomas Garcia" Anthropos 109(1): 119-134

2009 (journal backlogged, actual publication date 2011) "To Endure or Ignore? Two Priests' Responses to Hierarchical Discipline in a Guatemalan Religious Field" Postscripts 5(3): 317-336

2010 "Of Networks and Hierarchies: Ethnic Ambivalence and Pan-Mayanism in Guatemala" Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies. 5(1): 27-52

2009 "Judas off the Noose: Sacerdotes Mayas, Costumbristas, and the Politics of Purity in the Tradition of San Simón in Guatemala" Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology. 14(2): 360-388.

Research Interests

In 2002 I completed a 20 month program of research for my doctoral dissertation, an ethnography of the K'iche' Maya community of San Andrés Xecul, Guatemala. I returned for 2 months in 2007, 3 months in 2009 and 4 months in 2014. I have focused upon religious, political and economic change, investigating the interplay between four religious options (shamanism or 'costumbre'; Pentecostal Christianity, especially Charismatic Catholicism; Maya Catholicism informed by inculturation theology; and a revitalised Maya spirituality) and pressures associated with modernity. In this context I have examined the relevance of adherence to a Maya identity, as opposed to or combined with 'indigenous', 'K'iche'' or 'Xeculense' identities.

Related research in Guatemala traces the impact of economic migration to the United States, the local impact of national ethnic activism, and the tensions arising from a range of modernising forces as these confront local standards of morality, gender roles, and economic ideology. I have likewise conducted historical research the National Archives in Guatemala City, and was granted full access to Xecul's archives, which I organised and analysed. This archival research was complemented with oral history research conducted with the participation of a range of local residents.

In addition, I have studied transnationalism and economic migration to the United States, through fieldwork in Xecul focusing on the impact of migration on fiesta traditions and public expressive culture, and over a month in San Diego, California in 2010 (plus several weeks in previous years) spent with migrants from Xecul. This research has expanded my focus on ethnic and local attachments, as well as religion in forming identities, themes which are developed in my recent book.

Other research directions involve considering the way Maya and non-Maya (including Westerners with New Age sensibilities) lay claim to aspects of Maya Spirituality at levels beyond local communities. Research into these themes was conducted in 2014.

My current project examines the nature and scope of organizations and institutions which, in different ways, seek to represent and revitalize Maya spirituality and ritual traditions at regional and national levels in Guatemala.

I am not currently accepting graduate students. As funding becomes available, I will note any opportunities which arise in this context.

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