Kathleen C. O’Brien is a cultural anthropologist with regional expertise in the Andes. She is currently adjunct faculty in the Center for Latin American Studies. She is also project coordinator for the Study of the United States Institute (SUSI) on Women's Leadership. The institute brings indigenous and black college students from across Latin America to the UA to learn about U.S. history, environment, and politics through a social justice lens.
Her research explores how religious identity intersects with the dynamics of generation, gender, and indigeneity. Her doctoral dissertation is based on fifteen months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Ecuador's Chimborazo Province, the site of a mass conversion of Kichwa-speaking indigenous peoples from Catholicism to evangelical Protestantism in the 1960s. Her work examines the emergence of intergenerational tensions in the long-term aftermath of conversion. She explores the ways in which the adult children and grandchildren of the area’s first converts contest gender and age hierarchies from within the indigenous evangelical movement while remaining committed believers.
She has more than ten years of teaching experience. In addition to Latin American Studies, she has taught cultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology. She also taught English at the University of Costa Rica in San José, Costa Rica, where she lived for two years. She designs and delivers courses in a variety of modalities, including hybrid, online, and face-to-face.