Professor; Department Chair

Areas of Expertise

Linguistic Anthropology; Gender and Sexuality; Courtship and Marriage; Youth Culture, Consumption, and the New Middle Class; Islam; Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Cambodia)

View Professor Smith-Hefner’s CV


Nancy J. Smith-Hefner is a linguistic anthropologist and specialist of religion and gender in Southeast Asia. Her early research included projects on language, identity, and gender socialization in Java, Indonesia, as well as identity and moral education among Cambodian refugees in the United States. Her current research is focused on questions of gender and sexuality among Muslim Javanese youth.

Her 2019 book, Islamizing Intimacies: Youth, Sexuality, and Gender in Contemporary Indonesia (University of Hawai’i Press) traces recent trends and controversies in Muslim youth culture in Java. The book examines new practices of language, dress, courtship, and marriage in relation to public cultural debates on masculinities and femininities, the growing interest in more normative forms of Islam, and the development of new middle-class subjectivities. Rather than a unitary Muslim conformity, the study emphasizes the increasing pluralization of options for contemporary youth—and the contest to which the new gender diversity has given rise.

She is currently working on the completion of a short monograph on youth and romance in Indonesia. Chapters present a series of “experience-near” stories of romance as recounted by Javanese youth that reflect both the diversity of young people’s experiences but also the common scripts on which young people draw in framing their life narratives.

Dr. Smith-Hefner is the editor (with Marcia C. Inhorn) of Waithood: Gender, Education and Global Delays in Marriage (Berghahn Books, 2020) and author of Khmer American: Identity and Moral Education in a Diasporic Community (University of California Press, 1999). Her work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Spencer Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the Fulbright Senior Scholar Program.

Selected Publications

  • Waithood: Gender, Education and Global Delays in Marriage, edited with Marcia C. Inhorn. New York: Berghahn Press.
  • Islamizing Intimacies: Youth, Sexuality, and Gender in Contemporary Indonesia. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
  • “Youth Language, Gaul Sociability, and the New Indonesian Middle Class.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 17(2): 184-203.


  • CAS AN 260 Sex and Gender in Anthropological Perspective
  • CAS AN 318/718 Southeast Asia: Tradition and Modernity
  • CAS AN 350/750 Asians in America
  • CAS AN 351 Language, Culture, and Society
  • CAS AN 462 Ethnography and Anthropological Theory II
  • CAS AN 530/WS 530 Global Intimacies: Sex, Gender, and Contemporary Sexualities
  • CAS AN 751 Seminar in Linguistic Anthropology