My research has focused mainly on the interface between local and global religion, with forays into the history of Canadian anthropology, ethno-history, the anthropology of art and the impact of international environmental organizations upon indigenous peoples. Since 1981, I have conducted most of my field research with the Maisin people of Papua New Guinea, a socio-linguistic group of around 3,000 people living in Oro Province on the northeast coast of the country. I have also had shorter stints of fieldwork with the Nuxalk and Nisga’a Nations of British Columbia. Most of my work concerns the place of Christianity in Oceania and Aboriginal British Columbia, during the colonial period and in the present.
John Barker (PhD, British Columbia, 1985) is a socio-cultural anthropologist whose main research concerns the religious change among Indigenous peoples in colonial and post-colonial Oceania and British Columbia and the history of anthropological research in Canada. After receiving degrees at the University of Western Ontario, Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and the University of British Columbia, Barker held a Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship in Anthropology at the University of Washington in Anthropology and in association with the Burke Museum before taking up his present position at UBC in 1987. He served as department Head of Anthropology from 2008 to 2013.
Professor Barker’s primary long-term fieldwork has been with the Maisin people of Papua New Guinea, with shorter periods of ethnographic and archival research with the Nuxalk and Nisga’a Nations in British Columbia. He was among the first anthropologists to study Melanesians’ adoption and adaptations of Christianity and has made many contributions to the burgeoning field of the anthropology of Christianity. His other main contributions have concerned the historical foundations of modern anthropology in Canada and Oceania, particularly the contributions of missionary ethnographers and the pioneering work of T.F. McIlwraith in Bella Coola.
Professor Barker is past chair of the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania, Associate Editor of Pacific Affairs, and the academic editor of two series published by the University of Toronto Press: Teaching Culture and Anthropological Insights.
Office Hours: Tuesday 3:30-5 or by appointment
Books & Edited Collections
Barker, John. 2016. Ancestral Lines: The Maisin of Papua New Guinea and the Fate of the Rainforest, 2nd edition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Barker, John (ed.). 2007. The Anthropology of Morality in Melanesia and Beyond. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Barker, John and Alan Howard (eds.). 2004 . Back in the Field Again: Long Term Fieldwork in Oceanic Societies. Pacific Studies 27 (3/4).
Barker, John and Douglas Cole (eds.) 2003. At Home with the Bella Coola Indians: T.F. McIlwraith’s Field Letters, 1922-24. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Barker John and Dan Jorgensen (eds.) 1996. Regional Histories in Oceania. Oceania 66:3.
Barker, John (ed.) 1990. Christianity in Oceania: Ethnographic Perspectives. ASAO Monograph No. 12. Lanham, New York and London: University Press of America.
Selected Articles and Chapters
2016. Barker, J. and Hermkens, A-K. “The Mothers’ Union Goes on Strike: Maisin Women, Tapa and Christianity,” Journal of Australian Anthropology 27: 185-205.
2014. “The One and the Many: Church-Centered Innovations in a Papua New Guinea Community,” Current Anthropology 55(S10): S172-S181.
2013. “Going by the Book: Missionary Views.” In C. Townsend-Gault, J. Kramer and Ki-ke-in (eds.), Native Art of the Northwest Coast: A History of Changing Ideas, pp. 234-64. Vancouver: UBC Press.
2012. “The Politics of Christianity in Papua New Guinea.” In M. Tomlinson and D. McDougall (eds.), Christian Politics in Oceania, pp. 146-70. Oxford: Berghahn.
2012. “The Enigma of Christian Conversion.” In Laurent Dousset and Serge Tcherkezoff (eds.), Papers in Honour of Maurice Godelier, pp. 46-56. Oxford: Berghahn.
2007. “Introduction: The Anthropological Study of Morality in Melanesia.” In John Barker (ed.), The Anthropology of Morality in Melanesia and Beyond, pp. 1-21. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
2005. “Where the Missionary Frontier Ran Ahead of Empire.” In Norman Etherington (ed.), Missions and Empire (Companion Series to The Oxford History of the British Empire), pp. 86-106. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2004. “Creationism in Canada.” In Simon Coleman and Leslie Carlin (eds.), The Cultures of Creationism: Political, Educational and Religious Aspects of a Global Phenomenon, pp. 85-108. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
2004. “Between Heaven and Earth: Missionaries, Environmentalists and the Maisin.” In Victoria Lockwood (ed.), Globalization and Culture Change in the Pacific Islands, pp. 439-59. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
1998. “Tangled Reconciliations: The Anglican Church and the Nisga’a of British Columbia,” American Ethnologist 25(3): 433-52.
1993. “’We are Ekelesia‘: Conversion in Uiaku, Papua New Guinea.” In Robert Hefner (ed.), Christian Conversion: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives on a Great Transformation, pp. 199-230. Berkeley: University of California Press.
1992. “Introduction: T.F. McIlwraith and the Nuxalk (Bella Coola Indians).” In T.F. McIlwraith, The Bella Coola Indians, pp. ix-xxxvii. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
1992. “Christianity in Western Melanesian Ethnography.” In James Carrier (ed.), History and Tradition in Melanesian Anthropology, pp. 144-173. Berkeley: University of California Press.
1989. “Western Medicine and the Continuity of Belief: The Maisin of Collingwood Bay, Oro Province.” In Stephen Frankel and Gilbert Lewis (eds.), A Continuing Trial of Treatment: Medical Pluralism in Papua New Guinea, pp. 69-94. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
The islands of Melanesia are home to one of the most culturally diverse populations on earth, speaking a third of the world’s languages. This course provides an overview of the cultures and history of the region. We will explore how different communities are coping with change, leading to transformations in their societies while remaining distinctly Melanesian in cultural orientation. In an increasingly integrated world, they face familiar challenges: an erosion of ancestral values, displacement from the land, environmental degradation, and a desire for improved material conditions. Their solutions, however, are unique and have much to teach us.
“We are what we eat.” Few aspects of human existence are as basic as food. Food is essential to our biological survival, yet there are few aspects of human life that are as culturally varied and elaborated as food getting, consumption and symbolism. In this course, we will survey anthropological contributions to the study of food as a means of examining typical anthropological methodologies and theories. More specifically, we will draw on recent multi-sited ethnographies to learn about the local and global impacts of the mass marketing of food commodities such as coffee and noodles as well as the risks and promises the globalization of food presents to our collective survival.
This course examines the origins and development of anthropology in Canada and other countries from the late nineteenth century to the present. In particular, we will learn about the foundational questions and historical conditions that motivated and shaped early anthropology and have to a considerable extent continued to inform methods and theory to the present day. An emphasis will be placed on reading extracts from influential works in socio-cultural and archaeological anthropology.
Keynote speaker, Who Cares: The Material Heritage of British Missions in Africa and the Pacific, and Its Future, University of East Anglia, Norwich UK, June 11, 2013.
Invited participant, Workshop on the Anthropology of Christianity. Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, March 8-14, 2013. Sintra, Portugal.
September 2008 Department of Anthropology, University of Bergen.
May 2008 Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, France
May 2006 École des Hautes Étude en Sciences Sociales, Paris France
February 2002 Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, Feb. 13. Canberra, Australia.
February 2002 Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia.
May 1999 École des Hautes Étude en Sciences Sociales. Paris & Marseille, France.
Research funding from: the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the UBC Hampton Fund,the Overseas Missionary Study Center, and the National Geographic Society.