Kelli Swazey examines how religious and spiritual practices form group identity, and play a vital role in structuring the interactions of individuals within a culture.

Why you should listen

Kelli Swazey is fascinated by two big questions: how do we know who we are, and how does our identity shape interactions with others? As a cultural anthropologist, Swazey has explored these ideas by researching how religion, spirituality and politics define society in Indonesia, where she has lived for more than 10 years. Swazey is currently a lecturer at the Center for Cross-Cultural and Religious Studies at Gadjah Mada University.

In her research, Swazey has looked at Christian-Muslim relations in North Sulawesi, documented Indonesian church services in New England and taken an interest in the funeral practices in Tana Toraja, located in eastern Indonesia. Her husband is an ethnic Torajan, and Swazey found herself fascinated by his stories of playing with his grandfather long after he was dead. Examinging the way Torajans make death a unique part of village life has deeply influenced her own thoughts on the end of life, she says. This is why she loves anthropology: because thinking about human difference has the power to teach us about ourselves.

Swazey has also embarked on an unusual cultural tour of Indonesia: she is learning to sing a song from every province.

Watch Swazey's TEDxUbud 2018 talk here

Kelli Swazey’s TED talk

More news and ideas from Kelli Swazey


11 fascinating funeral traditions from around the globe

October 1, 2013

The funerals I’ve attended have all been very much the same. Relatives and friends arrive in all black and take seats in the church or synagogue pews for a somber ceremony where prayers are said, memories are shared and tears are shed. The attendees walk slowly out to their cars and form a single file […]

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