Professor Emeritus


Ph.D. Anthropology, University of Chicago 1974

M.A. Anthropology, University of Chicago 1968

B.A. Anthropology, Reed College 1965

CAS Speaker Bureau Topic(s)

Sri Lanka and South India, popular Hinduism and Islam, caste and family patterns, Tamil ethnicity, civil war and tsunami recovery.

Regional and Thematic Interests

South Asia, popular religions, family and marriage patterns, caste and ethnic tensions, photography and visual culture


Dennis McGilvray is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder and the past President of the American Institute of Sri Lankan Studies.  He was also the founding director of the Center for Asian Studies.

His ethnographic interests are in South Asia, with a research focus on the Tamils and Muslims of south India and Sri Lanka.  His book, Crucible of Conflict (2008), examines matrilineal Hindu and Muslim society in the Tamil-speaking region of eastern Sri Lanka, an area that was deeply affected by the island’s civil war. He also led an NSF research team after the Indian Ocean tsunami (McGilvray and Gamburd, eds. Tsunami Recovery in Sri Lanka (2010). His recent publications focus upon popular Sufism and anti-Muslim conflict in Sri Lanka. His skill with a camera is displayed in his photo-book Symbolic Heat: Gender, Health, and Worship among the Tamils of Sri Lanka and South India (1998). At the moment, he is working on a book manuscript entitled A House for Every Daughter that describes women-centered households and female dowry property in Sri Lanka and South India.

Selected Publications

2016  “Rethinking Muslim Identity in Sri Lanka.” John C. Holt, ed., Buddhist Extremists and Muslim Minorities: Religious Conflict in Contemporary Sri Lanka.  Oxford University Press, 54-77.

2014  “Matrilocal Marriage and Women’s Property among the Moors of Sri Lanka.” Robin Jeffrey and Ronojoy Sen, eds., Being Muslim in South Asia: Diversity and Daily Life, 87-115.

2008  Crucible of Conflict: Tamil and Muslim Society on the East Coast of Sri Lanka. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

2006  “Tsunami and Civil War in Sri Lanka: An Anthropologist Confronts the Real World.” India Review 5(3-4):372-393.

1998  Symbolic Heat: Gender, Health, and Worship among the Tamils of South India and Sri Lanka. Ahmedabad: Mapin.