Research Projects

and associated publications

My research is inherently interdisciplinary, spanning the fields of anthropology, psychology, religious studies, Hmong studies, Southeast Asian studies, American Studies, European Studies, and others. While this work touches on a wide range of topics, here is a brief summary of some of the core topics that I have worked on and which I am currently working on, along with some of my associated publications or works in progress. If you cannot access the listed publications at the links provided, please contact me and I can send a copy to you.

Morality, Ethics, Personhood, and Ontology

Much of my work falls under what has been called "the ethical turn" in anthropological theory, but this work also engages with debates surrounding morality and ethics in other disciplines, including psychology, philosophy, and religious studies. My contributions to these debates seek to integrate understandings of ontology—people's sense of reality, including the most fundamental assumptions that they make about the nature of reality—and moral thinking and ethical practice. I contend that morality and ethics cannot be understood outside of assumptions about the nature of reality. In a word, morality entails ontology, and vice versa. This overlooked assumption in some of these debates has led to the neglect of "moral realism" as a position within the debates. I argue that moral realism is fundamental to human moral experience, and I seek to fill this out in my ethnographic and theoretical work. Drawing from insights with my ethnography of Hmong families in Thailand, the United States, France, Vietnam, and China, I argue that Hmong engage with the world as moral realists—even in the face of dramatic changes in the social contexts that they encounter and despite having to develop new ways of morally engaging with the changing world around them. 

Publications:

Hickman, Jacob R. (Book Manuscript in Preparation) Ancestral Futures: Migrations of Souls and Bodies Across the Hmong Diaspora.

Hickman, Jacob R. (2019). Culture and Hermeneutic Moral Realism. In, Hermeneutic Moral Realism in Psychology: Theory and Practice. Brent Slife and Stephen Yanchar, Eds. Routledge. (link to WorldCat)

Cassaniti, Julia, and Jacob R. Hickman. (2014). New Directions in the Anthropology of Morality. Anthropological Theory, 13(4): 251-262. doi: 10.1177/1463499614534371.

Hickman, Jacob R. (2014). Ancestral Personhood and Moral Justification. Anthropological Theory, 13(4): 317-335. doi: 10.1177/1463499614534553

Hickman, Jacob R. (2017). Acculturation, Assimilation, and the ‘View From Manywheres’ in the Hmong Diaspora. In, Universalism without Uniformity: Explorations in Mind and Culture. Julia Cassaniti and Usha Menon, Eds. Pp. 173-196. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (link to WorldCat)

Hickman, Jacob R., and Allison DiBianca Fasoli. (2015). The Dynamics of Ethical Co-Occurrence in Hmong and American Evangelical Families: New Directions for Three Ethics Research. In, Moral Development in a Global World: Research from a Cultural-Developmental Perspective. Lene Arnett Jensen, Ed. Pp. 141-169. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (link to WorldCat)

Hickman, Jacob R., and Joseph Webster. (In Press, 2019). Millenarianism. The Oxford Handbook of the Anthropology of Religion. Joel Robbins and Simon Coleman, Eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (preprint on academia.edu)

Starks, Shannon, Amber Nadal, Jacob R. Hickman, Sam Hardy. (Under Review). Moral Values in Moral Psychology: A Cultural Discourse and Content Analysis. New Ideas in Psychology.

Hardy, Sam A., Lawrence J. Walker, Joseph A. Olsen, Ryan D. Woodbury, and Jacob R. Hickman. (2014). Moral Identity as Moral Ideal Self: Links to Adolescent Outcomes. Developmental Psychology, 50(1), 45-57. doi: 10.1037/a0033598

Millenarianism: New Religious and Social Movements

One interesting element of the global Hmong community is the sheer extent of new religious movements that seem to rise up in just about every place where Hmong have migrated. These movements range in political ambitions, but for the most part, they are rooted in an imagined past where Hmong had a great society—the ancient Hmong kingdom that, according to legend, was lost to the Chinese. As the story goes, Hmong then became a semi-nomadic, wandering tribe without a written language and an idiosyncratic religious system. These many religious movements generally aspire to reunite Hmong society with a common ritual tradition, and, in most cases, a new, authentically 'Hmong' writing system, or orthography. As I have studied these movements, I have been struck by the pervasiveness of a very similar sentiment in American and European societies. For example, in January of 2016, I was surprised by the religious character of the "Sovereign Citizen" activists who engaged in an armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. It struck me that these cattle ranchers and activists saw themselves as facing quite similar existential threats to those posed to Hmong religious activists. With my colleague, Joe Webster (Queen's University Belfast), we began to pay closer attention to the apocalyptic and utopian obsessions that underlie religious conflict in Northern Ireland as well. It became all too clear that the explanations of the motivations of these groups—from academic theories to journalistic accounts to comments of law enforcement officials—failed to account for the intentions and motivations that these activists understand to underlie their own work. In this ongoing project, Webster and I are looking to re-theorize millenarianism, providing new insights into apocalyptic movements, utopianism, messianism, and related phenomena. Critically, this is not a mode of thinking that is limited to religion per se. Rather, we argue that millenarianism pervades contemporary political and social discourse surrounding climate change, artificial intelligence, the global rise of populism, and so on. This comparative project seeks to understand millenarianism in all of its forms and to provide a more in-depth understanding of the worldviews of millenarians of all walks of life.

Publications:

Hickman, Jacob R., and Joseph Webster. (In Press, 2019). Millenarianism. The Oxford Handbook of the Anthropology of Religion. Joel Robbins and Simon Coleman, Eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (preprint on academia.edu)

Hickman, Jacob R. (Under Review). Existential Threat and Ontological Innovation: New Religious Dynamics in the Hmong Diaspora.

Hickman, Jacob R., Ed. (2016/2018). Venerated Pasts, Utopian Futures: Asian Millenarianism in the Here and Now and the Then and There. Workshop series organized with Title VI NRC funding from the BYU/University of Utah Intermountain Consortium for Asia Pacific Studies. Park City, Utah, October 1-2, 2016, and December 1-2, 2018. I am editing a volume from this collection, to be submitted for publication in 2019.

(In Preparation) The Making of a Hmong Millennium: Economies of Recognition in a Diasporic Religious Community (chapter in the aforementioned edited volume, Jacob R. Hickman, editor).

(In Preparation) Writing a New World Into Being: Orthographic Ideology and Millenarian Religion in Hmong Society. (paper to be presented at the Languages in Mainland Southeast Asia Workshop, University of Sydney, August 2019).

Social Change: Migration, Resettlement, Adaptation

Sometimes people experience social change as subtle and gradual, and sometimes it feels quite dramatic. Many of the Hmong families and individuals that I have spent the most time with in my fieldwork were displaced as refugees from the mountains of Laos, and some of them resettled to some of the most dramatically different locations that one could imagine, such as inner-city neighborhoods in the American Midwest. My research asks how Hmong people adapt to these changes, including intergenerational trends in social and cultural change. My work examines moral thinking, ritual practice, health beliefs, and perspectives on reality across these generations. This work with Hmong has led me to consider other groups who face existential threats to their communities, less as a result of migration, and more as a result of changing political circumstances. This comparative work has taken me to Northern Ireland to examine how Protestant, Catholic, and other religious communities face the existential threats that have plagued their communities for decades. I have undertaken further comparisons with cattle ranchers in the American Midwest, who face existential threats to their ways of life as a result of federal land management policy.

Publications:

Hickman, Jacob R. (Book Manuscript in Preparation) Ancestral Futures: Migrations of Souls and Bodies Across the Hmong Diaspora.

Hickman, Jacob R. (Under Review). Existential Threat and Ontological Innovation: New Religious Dynamics in the Hmong Diaspora.

Hickman, Jacob R. (2017). Acculturation, Assimilation, and the ‘View From Manywheres’ in the Hmong Diaspora. In, Universalism without Uniformity: Explorations in Mind and Culture. Julia Cassaniti and Usha Menon, Eds. Pp. 173-196. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (link to WorldCat)

Hickman, Jacob R., and Allison DiBianca Fasoli. (2015). The Dynamics of Ethical Co-Occurrence in Hmong and American Evangelical Families: New Directions for Three Ethics Research. In, Moral Development in a Global World: Research from a Cultural-Developmental Perspective. Lene Arnett Jensen, Ed. Pp. 141-169. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (link to WorldCat)

Hickman, Jacob R. (2007). “Is it the Spirit or the Body?”: Syncretism of Health Beliefs among Hmong Immigrants to Alaska. Annals of Anthropological Practice, 27:176-195. (formerly, NAPA Bulletin) doi: 10.1525/napa.2007.27.1.176  (Reprinted in: Sacred Realms: Readings in the Anthropology of Religion, Second Edition. (2009). R. Warms, J. Garber, & R. J. McGee, Eds. New York: Oxford University Press. )

Religion and Ritual, Health and Healing

While religion and ritual, health and healing may seem like separate domains of human experience, Hmong perspectives on health and healing relate them fundamentally to their outlook on reality, and their relationships with ancestral and environmental spirits. These assumed relationships between health and spirituality endures for many Hmong who convert to new religious traditions such as Christianity. My work has sought to understand the practical and ontological underpinnings of Hmong health practices, and to understand how Hmong employ a very complicated repertoire of rituals to meet their needs, whether those needs are physical, spiritual, economic, or social. 

Publications:

Hickman, Jacob R. (Book Manuscript in Preparation) Ancestral Futures: Migrations of Souls and Bodies Across the Hmong Diaspora.

Hickman, Jacob R. (Under Review). Existential Threat and Ontological Innovation: New Religious Dynamics in the Hmong Diaspora.

Hickman, Jacob R. (2007). “Is it the Spirit or the Body?”: Syncretism of Health Beliefs among Hmong Immigrants to Alaska. Annals of Anthropological Practice, 27:176-195. (formerly, NAPA Bulletin) doi: 10.1525/napa.2007.27.1.176  (Reprinted in: Sacred Realms: Readings in the Anthropology of Religion, Second Edition. (2009). R. Warms, J. Garber, & R. J. McGee, Eds. New York: Oxford University Press. )

Hickman, Jacob R. (2014). Ancestral Personhood and Moral Justification. Anthropological Theory, 13(4): 317-335. doi: 10.1177/1463499614534553

Corbett, Cheryl, Jamie Gettys, Lynn Callister, and Jacob R. Hickman. (2017). The Meaning of Giving Birth: Voices of Hmong Women Living in Vietnam. The Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing, 31(3): 207-215. doi: 10.1097/JPN.0000000000000242

Hickman, Jacob R. (2009). Treating Hmong Children in America: Two Case Studies. In, The Child: An Encyclopedic Companion. Pp. 436-437. Richard A. Shweder, Ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (link to WorldCat)