As an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker, Bernstein’s main work has been on the changing geopolitical imaginaries of mobile religious communities across Eurasia. Her book, “Religious Bodies Politic: Rituals of Sovereignty in Buryat Buddhism” (Chicago, 2013), explores the transformation of Buddhist practice among a Siberian indigenous people known as Buryats, foremost through their post-Soviet renewal of transnational ties with their fellow co-religionists across north and south Asia. To capture these issues ethnographically, Bernstein conducted multi-sited field research in Buryat communities in Siberia as well as in Tibetan monasteries in India where some Buryat monks currently receive their religious education. The book focuses on the ways in which religion and politics have intersected under conditions of rapid social change in terms raised by recent work on sovereignty and postsocialism.
“Religious Bodies Politic” is the winner of the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion: Analytical-Descriptive Category from the American Academy of Religion (2014) and an Honorable Mention for the Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies from the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (2014). As a visual anthropologist Bernstein has directed, filmed, and produced several award-winning documentary films on Buryat Buddhism and shamanism, including Join Me in Shambhala (2002) and In Pursuit of the Siberian Shaman (2006).
Bernstein was honored to have her work generously supported by a number of external research and writing fellowships, including National Science Foundation, Fulbright, Social Science Research Council, and Wenner-Gren Foundation Fellowships for field research, Mellon/American Councils of Learned Societies writing fellowship, Michigan Society of Fellows Postdoctoral Fellowship, and Social Science Research Council Fellowship for Transregional Research. Her articles have appeared in Public Culture, Critical Inquiry, Cultural Anthropology, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Ab Imperio, Inner Asia, Sibirica: Journal for Siberian Studies, Mongolian Studies, American Ethnologist, and American Anthropologist (forthcoming 2016). Bernstein’s films have been screened at numerous ethnographic film festivals around the world and are widely used in university classrooms for courses on anthropology of religion, globalization, tourism, Asian and Russian studies, and indigenous societies.
Bernstein is currently at work on two projects. The first one deals with religion, secularism, and censorship in Russia. In this project, Bernstein attempts to think through the moral dilemmas that have animated passions behind recent post-Soviet culture wars, particularly conflicts between contemporary artists, the Russian Orthodox Church, and perceptions of society at large. The second project explores the interplay between questions of immortality and life extension industries across the Soviet Union and postsocialist Russia, drawing on archival and ethnographic methods to investigate these technoscientific and religious futurisms.
Bernstein holds a BS in Linguistics from Georgetown University, an MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Manchester, and a PhD in Anthropology from New York University. From 2010 to 2012 she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Michigan Society of Fellows.