Peter G. Stromberg

Peter Stromberg

Department ChairProfessor of Anthropology Harwell Hall  2nd Floor
(918)631 2801
peter-Stromberg@utulsa.eduPersonal Page

The men and women who live in contemporary Western societies-- unlike most human beings throughout history--have considerable latitude in choosing their social and ideological affiliations. This remarkable freedom creates some unique social and psychological opportunities and challenges. Throughout my career as a researcher, I have worked to understand some of the processes and implications of affiliation and commitment in the contemporary West.

My doctoral research focused on how persons become committed to a particular institution, a Swedish free (non-state) church. In my dissertation I argued that in spite of wide variations in belief among the church membership, certain concepts and practices united the congregation of the church, and that these shared ideas reflected some of the underlying moral principles of the Swedish welfare state. In my first book (Symbols of Community: The Cultural System of a Swedish Church, 1986, University of Arizona Press) and in a paper entitled “The Impression Point,” published in 1985 the journal Ethos, I began to outline some of the cognitive and emotional aspects of the processes of commitment. It is commonplace in contemporary society for men and women to form strong bonds of identification with particular religious and secular ideas and practices. Often these identifications are rooted in moments wherein cultural symbols take on a concrete and visceral reality by seeming to merge into experience and to acquire the status of lived reality. The emotional power and intellectual centrality of these experiences work to cement people’s commitments to ideas and groups.

After I completed my dissertation I obtained a post-doctoral position that allowed me to further explore these experiences of meaningfulness. This fellowship was located at the departments of Psychiatry and Anthropology at the University of California, San Diego. I attended seminars along with Psychiatry residents and worked as a psychotherapist in a community mental health center for about two years. Through this experience I learned clinical interviewing techniques and, more broadly, I learned about interpreting the emotional dynamics of speech.

I emerged from this training with a much stronger appreciation for the psychological significance of ecstatic experiences of meaningfulness in contemporary society. Previously, I had grasped that on the sociological level, these identifications may foster commitment to the religious or secular groups that generated the relevant ideas and practices. However, it is also important that on the psychological level, such experiences may be understood as standing outside of the mundane world and hence may constitute highly meaningful moments of self-transcendence.

Both psychological and sociological levels of significance are clearly illustrated in the Evangelical Christian conversion experience, and it is to investigating this phenomenon that I turned in my second post-doctoral position, located at the Institute of Human Development at University of California, Berkeley (1983-85). This research was the basis for my second book, Language and Self-Transformation (1993, Cambridge University Press). In many conversion narratives, tenets of faith with which a believer has long been familiar are said to enter directly into the believer’s experience, and thereby assume an enormously magnified significance. From a sociological perspective, this can be a potent mechanism whereby commitment to Christian groups is forged. Psychologically, the conversion is often a means of addressing long-standing sources of ambivalence: The emotional power of the experience can work to endorse one set of norms and practices and to devalue another.

As I have studied the social and psychological aspects of commitment, I have increasingly appreciated the profound historical significance of this phenomenon. Max Weber

Education and Degrees Earned

  • B.S. Mathematics, Purdue University, 1974
  • B.A. Anthropology, Purdue University, 1974
  • Ph.D. Cultural Anthropology, Stanford University, 1981

Previous Teaching Experience

  • University of California, Berkeley, Sociology Department, 1983
  • University of Arizona, Anthropology Department, 1984-1987

Previous Relevant Work Experience

  • Research Associate, Medical Anthropology, University of California San Francisco, 1983-84

Professional Affiliations

  • American Anthropological Association
  • Society for Psychological Anthropology

Courses Taught at TU

  • Patterns in Culture: Cultural Anthropology (ANTH 2043 )
  • Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion (ANTH 3443)
  • Contemporary Anthropological Problems (ANTH 4863)
  • Qualitative Research Methods (ANTH 6403)
  • History of Anthropological Theory (ANTH 7123)

Awards & Recognition

  • 2004 Henry Kendall College, University of Tulsa, Excellence in Teaching Award
  • 2001 Identity Construction and the Development of Dependency in Cigarette Smoking (with Lamont Lindstrom, Mark Nichter and Mimi Nichter), Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
  • 1999 Outstanding Teacher Award, University of Tulsa
  • 1986 American-Scandinavian Foundation, Research Fellowship
  • 1983 National Institute of Mental Health, Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of California at Berkeley
  • 1981 National Institute of Mental Health, Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of California at San Diego
  • 1979 National Institute of Mental Health, Postdoctoral Fellowship, Stanford University
  • 1978 Social Science Research Council, Research Fellowship
  • 1978 Fulbright Research Fellowship
  • 1978 American-Scandinavian Foundation, Research Fellowship


  • Collective Excitement and Lapse in Agency: Fostering an Appetite for Cigarettes
    In Daniel Lende and Greg Downey, Eds., The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology. Pp.318-338. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 2012
  • The Emotional Pleasures of Reading Twilight
    In E. David Klonsky and Alexis Black, eds., The Psychology of Twilight. Pp. 215-232. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books. 2011
  • Person and Community in the Culture of Entertainment
    Pastoral Psychology 60: 737-744. 2011
  • Caught In Play: How entertainment works on you
    Stanford University Press, 2008.
  • Symbolic Valorization in the Culture of Entertainment: The Example of Legal Drug Use
    Anthropological Theory. 2008.
  • Taking Play Seriously: Low level smoking among college students
    (with Mark Nichter and Mimi Nichter). Culture, Medicine and Psychology 31: 1-24. 2007.