Webb Keane grew up in New York City and studied studio art and philosophy. After working as a ranch hand, waiter, file clerk, and cafe manager, he worked as an archaeological draftsman in Peru. Having discovered cultural and linguistic anthropology along the way, he went on to receive the PhD from the University of Chicago, after which he taught at the University of Pennsylvania, before moving to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  His most extensive fieldwork has been on the island of Sumba, in eastern Indonesia.

Below: One of the joys of Sumbanese fieldwork was long conversations with the delightful and profound Umbu Paroru


Here’s a student’s viewpoint (U of Pennsylvania ca. 1995):

His wide-ranging interests have also taken him to the debates about language politics in Jakarta, discussions of evidence for Neolithic religion in Turkey, and the Dutch colonial archives.
Professor Keane has received fellowships from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, CA, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and has been a Fellow Commoner of Trinity College, Cambridge. He has been a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, Cambridge University, the University of Oslo, and National Taitung University (Taiwan), and has taught at the School of Criticism and Theory at Cornell University. He has been a Senior Fellow in the Michigan Society of Fellows, a recipient of the Henry Russel Award for scholarship and teaching from the University of Michigan, and has delivered the Edward Westermarck Memorial Lecture in Helsinki, the D. R. Sharpe Keynote Lecture on Social Ethics at the University of Chicago, the Annette B. Weiner Memorial Lecture at New York University, the biannual Roy A. Rappaport Distinguished Lecture of the Society for the Anthropology of Religion, the William T. Mulloy Lecture at the University of Wyoming, the Munro Lecture at the University of Edinburgh, the Lin Huixiang Memorial Lecture at Xiamen University (China), and the Daryll Forde Memorial Lecture at University College London.