Photo by Tony RinaldoPhoto by Tony Rinaldo
Peter S.Cahn
2008–2009
Katherine Hampson Bessell Fellow
University of Oklahoma
Anthropology
The Great Commission: Direct Sales and Direct Faith

Peter S. Cahn is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. Building on ethnographic data from central Mexico, his scholarly work seeks to identify links between global economic changes and personal religious rebirths. His first book, All Religions Are Good in Tzintzuntzan: Evangelicals in Catholic Mexico (University of Texas Press, 2003), took a ground-level approach to understanding how Protestant converts and Catholic traditionalists in one community developed mutual respect.

At Radcliffe, he will revise a manuscript that looks at how Mexican Roman Catholics are altering their concept of God through participation in direct selling. Companies like Amway and Avon may seem dated in the United States, but in many developing countries their promise of success has recruited millions of distributors. These seemingly secular firms instruct members to access divine generosity through positive thinking. By following one direct seller’s experience, the book will reveal why faith that individuals can determine their own future remains popular, despite evidence to the contrary.

Cahn received his AB from Harvard College, MPhil from the University of Cambridge, and PhD in sociocultural anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley. His previous research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the University of California Humanities Research Institute, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

This information is accurate as of the fellowship year indicated for each fellow.
Photo by Tony Rinaldo