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Faculty in Focus - Noor Borbieva

In 2009, Assistant Professor Noor Borbieva joined COAS’s Department of Anthropology. She studies gender and religious change and development in the former Soviet Union, especially Kyrgyzstan and the surrounding areas.

Borbieva became interested in anthropology as an undergraduate at Princeton University. She majored in religion, but was drawn to anthropology: “the anthropology texts were the most difficult, but they asked the most interesting questions and offered the most complex answers. I was interested in humanity and understanding religious beliefs and practices. And I realized the complexity was a key to it. If you try to simplify things too much, then you really lose any possibility of getting closer to the truth. So, the complexity attracted me.”

After graduation, Borbieva’s interest in religion, culture, and travel led her to join the Peace Corps. She was sent “to the farthest country [she] could imagine, the Kyrgyz Republic.” Borbieva spent two years there, teaching English and studying the languages and culture of rural Kyrgyz communities. She says it was “a wonderful experience. I met some people I am still close with, and I found my boundaries really stretched.”

Her Peace Corps experience also cemented her plans to pursue graduate work in anthropology. “I was very challenged in terms of my intellectual study. When I came back, I knew that I wanted to return and study the culture formally with an intellectual grounding in some kind of a discipline. Anthropology was the obvious choice. So I ended up going to graduate school and returning to Kyrgyzstan to do field work.”

Even after graduating with a Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard University, Borbieva remained interested in Kyrgyzstan and has gone back several times.  She’s only been able to return for a few weeks at a time, but hopes that in the future she can return for a research sabbatical and immerse herself for a few months. Borbieva plans to combine her research into a book-length ethnographic study on gender, religion, and development in the Kyrgyz Republic.

To learn about Borbieva’s current research, watch our Faculty in Focus video. For more, contact Borbieva or the anthropology department.