Watching Birds and People

Where Anthropology Meets Ornithology -- A Few Personal Remarks


  • Mikael Rothstein University of Copenhagen



intrapersonal reflexivity, fieldwork, methodology, birds, Borneo, ornithology, Penan, rainforest, Sarawak


This article explores ornithology as a hidden resource in anthropological field work. Relating experiences among the Penan forest nomads of Sarawak, Borneo, the author describes how his personal knowledge of bird life paved the way for good working relations, and even friendship, with the Penan. Representing two very different cultures simple communication between the scholar on duty and the Penan community was difficult indeed, but the birds provided a common ground that enabled the two parties to exchange experiences, knowledge and skills. In certain ways the author's fieldwork-based project relates to the Penan’s religious interpretation of birds, but the article is primarily concerned with the fact that a mutual understanding was created from this common ground, and that our thoughts on fieldwork preparations may be taken further by such experiences.


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Author Biography

Mikael Rothstein, University of Copenhagen

Mikael Rothstein is Associate Professor in the History of Religions, Department for Cross Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. As author and editor he has published extensively on new religions, his current research focusing on modernity and indigenous religions in Hawaii and Borneo.


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How to Cite

Rothstein, M. (2008). Watching Birds and People: Where Anthropology Meets Ornithology -- A Few Personal Remarks. Fieldwork in Religion, 2(2), 160–176.