Gretchen Elisabeth Pfeil

Department of Anthropology
Barnard College
3009 Broadway
New York, NY 10027


PhD, Anthropology, University of Chicago, 2020
Dissertation: Sarax and Sutura: alms and the value of discretion in Dakar, Senegal

MA, Anthropology, University of Chicago 2006
Thesis: “They Overcame Him by the Blood of the Lamb and the Word of their Testimony”: Rituals of anti-ritual in American Pentecostal practice

Linguistics graduate coursework and MA exams, completed 2004

BA, Linguistics & English Literature, Reed College, 2000
BA Thesis: Posing Pairs: Speech genre and the construction of participant roles at Praise Chapel, Portland Oregon

Research Interests

Linguistic and semiotic anthropology; gender, sexuality, and reproduction; mediation & semiotics of circulation; semiotics of ignorance, secrecy, and discretion; information management and information security; domestic life in urban spaces; economic anthropology; anthropology of religion; postcolonial economies of knowledge; Senegal; Urban Africa; Islam in West Africa; American Evangelical Christianity; ethnographic writing as social action.

Research Funding and Fellowships

2015, 2017, 2018 NYU SPS Adjunct Faculty Development Award
2011-2012 Charlotte W. Newcombe Dissertation Fellowship
2008-09 Social Sciences Collegiate Division Dissertation Research/Teaching Fellowship, University of Chicago
2007-08 Wenner-Gren Foundation Dissertation Research Fellowship (Dakar, Senegal)
2005,06,09,10 Lichtstern Travel Grant for Presentation of Research
2005 Leiffer Pre-Doctoral Travel Award (Dakar, Senegal), University of Chicago, Dept. of Anthropology
2005 African Languages Fund Travel Award (Dakar, Senegal), University of Chicago
2005 Pre-Doctoral Research Fellowship, West African Research Association
2003 (Summer) FLAS for African Languages (Wolof), via University of Pennsylvania
2004 Honorable Mention, National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, Linguistic Anthropology
2002-06 Social Science Division Graduate Fellowship, University of Chicago
2002 Mellon Fellowship for Humanistic Study, Finalist and Mention


Effacement Work. Semiotic Review, Special issue on “The Face.” Co-authored with Shunsuke Nozawa. Under review. 
Bottlenecks and Other Current Problems of Circulation (Review of Melly, Bottleneck: Moving, Building, and Belonging in an African City.) Current Anthropology. April 2019. 
Sarax and the City: Almsgiving and anonymous objects in Dakar, Senegal. In The Anthropology of Ignorance: An ethnographic approach. C. High, A. Kelly, and J. Mair ed. NY: Palgrave, April 2012.
Imperfect Vessels: Emotion and rituals of anti-Ritual in American Pentecostal and Charismatic Devotional life. In Practicing the Faith: The ritual life of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians. M. Lindhert ed. NY: Berghahn Books, 2011.

Teaching Appointments

2019-2020 Term Associate, Anthropology, Barnard College
2019 (spring) Adjunct Instructor, Anthropology, New York University, College of Arts and Sciences
2019 Adjunct Instructor, Anthropology, Guttman Community College, City University of New York
2015-present Instructor, Anthropology and World Cultures, New York University
Division of Applied Undergraduate Study
2016-2017 Part-time Visiting Assistant Professor, Anthropology, The New School
2012-13 Teaching Fellow, Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison
2012-13 Visiting Lecturer, Anthropology, Wesleyan University
2012-13 Visiting Lecturer, Anthropology, Bard College
2009 Visiting Lecturer, Anthropology and African(a) Studies, Bard College
2009 Visiting Lecturer in the College, Social Sciences Collegiate Division, University of Chicago
2006, 2008 Visiting Lecturer, Sociology, Suffolk University Dakar Campus, Dakar, Senegal

Advising and Mentoring

2013 Mentor to Alumni, Graduate School and Funding Applications, Bard Prison Initiative
2007-2008 Honors Thesis Advisor, School for International Training, Dakar, Senegal

Courses Taught

Introduction to Language and Culture 
Girl Talk: Language & Femininity (Barnard First Year Seminar)
Language and Gender
Cultures & Economies
Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality in the City (Guttman Community College) 
Language Matters (special topics in linguistic anthropology)
African Cultural Production
World Cultures Africa: Roots of contemporary African culture and politics

Conference Papers

2019 Other People’s Children: Intimacy and alienation in the movements of food in Dakar, Senegal. Joint Meetings of Candaian Association of Social Anthropology and American Anthropological Association, Vancouver, BC.
2018 Effacebook. Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, San Jose, CA. 
2017 ‘One Man’s Hypocrisy is another person’s discretion’: Senegalese diplomacy, virtuous enclosure, and aspirations of information management, Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, Washington DC.

2015 Effacement Work. Coauthored with Shunsuke Nozawa, University of Tokyo. Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, Denver, CO.

2013 Milk vs. Rice: Two ways of being siblings in Dakar. Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological
Association, Chicago, IL.

2011 Small Change: Visions of collectivity and moralities of scale in gifts to Dakar’s beggars. Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, Montreal, Quebec.

2010 Dressing and Undressing Bowls: On the beauty of food gifts and social relations in Dakar, Senegal. Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, New Orleans, LA.

2009 Sacrifice and Speculation: Anonymous alms and the public sphere in Dakar. Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, Philadelphia, PA.

2009 Parallel Prayers: Distribution and the ‘secular’ shape of Islam and Catholicism in Senegal. Biannual Meetings of the Society for the Anthropology of Religion, Asilomar, CA.

2008 Two Nudie Dances and a (Gay) Wedding: Kinship, circulation, and moral outrage in Dakar. Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, San Francisco, CA.

2006 Boys and Birds: family, charity, and the meanings of mediation in Dakar Muslim practice. 21st Annual Middle East History and Theory Conference, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL.

2005 Common Coins?: Economies of affect in ‘New Church’ outreach to Dakar’s talibé. (Revised) Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Washington DC.

2005 Common Coins?: Economies of affect in New Church outreach to Dakar’s talibé. Biannual Meeting of the Society for the Anthropology of Religion, Vancouver BC. 2005.

2004 Country Folk Like it Told Simple: Building ‘plain talk’ in Evangelical outreach to ‘Western Americans’ Michigan-Chicago Graduate Student Conference in Linguistic Anthropology, Chicago, IL.

Invited Talks 

2019 Effacebook. Four Fields Luncheon Series, New York University, Department of Anthropology.
2010 Talibé as economic actors. Workshop in preparation of a new film by Joseph Gaï Ramaka. Indiana University, Bloomington.
2008 Gender relations and living in Dakar, an orientation for students in study-abroad programs. Baobab Center, Africa Consultants International.
2008 Introduction to methods for field research in Dakar, Senegal. School for International Training, Dakar, Senegal.
2007 Talibé begging in Dakar and the city’s system of giving. University of Oregon/Indiana University Study Abroad Program in Dakar, Senegal.
2000 Conducting ethnographic research in Charismatic groups in Portland, Oregon. Reed College, Portland, OR. Guest speaker to the Junior Seminar in Religion.

Other Employment and Appointments

2009-pres. Medical Interpreter, Wolof, Columbia Presbyterian and Cornell Weill Hospitals, NY, NY
2009-10 Coordinator, African Humanities Program, American Council of Learned Societies, NY, NY

Professional Service


Journals: Cultural Anthropology, Ethnos, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology
Grant Selection Committee: Council for the Development of Social Scientific Research in Africa (2007) 
Editor & Translator: Working Papers. Council for the Development of Social Scientific Research in Africa (2007-08)


“Different Sames,” Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (2013)
“Ways of Not Knowing,” Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (2009)
“Privates and Counter-Privates,” Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (2008)
Member, Org. Committee, Michigan-Chicago Graduate Student Conference, Linguistic Anthropology. (2004)
Member, Student-Faculty Committee, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago. (2003)

Prizes and Awards

2020 Saller Dissertation Prize, Division of the Social Sciences, the University of Chicago
2007 Faculty Excellence Award (student-nominated), Suffolk University, Dakar, Senegal
2005 Graduate Student Abstract Prize, Society for the Anthropology of Religion
2003 & 2004 Honorable Mention, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship
2002 Finalist, Mellon Fellowship for Humanistic Studies
2000 Phi Beta Kappa, Reed College Chapter
1997-9 Awards for Academic Excellence, Reed College
1998 William Einzig Memorial Fellowship, Reed College


English (native)
Wolof (advanced)
French (advanced oral and written)
Spanish (advanced reading)

Memberships and Affiliations

Member, African Studies Association
Member, American Anthropological Association
Member, West African Research Association
Member, Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Affiliated Researcher, West African Research Center, Dakar, Senegal
Affiliated Researcher, Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa