Tuesday, April 23, 2024

UTSA professor Michael Cepek receives prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship

UTSA professor Michael Cepek receives prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship

Michael Cepek has spent the last three decades working with the Indigenous Cofán Nation of eastern Ecuador. Photo Courtesy of Bear Guerra

APRIL 12, 2023 — UTSA Department of Anthropology Professor Michael Cepek has received the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for 2023. The Guggenheim Fellowship is an important award because it is one of the most prestigious and competitive grants for artists, writers, scholars and scientists in the United States.

The Fellowship is administered by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, which was established in 1925 to support individuals who have demonstrated exceptional ability and outstanding achievement in their respective fields.

Each year, the Guggenheim Foundation awards approximately 175 fellowships to individuals making their mark in the social sciences, the natural sciences, the humanities and the creative arts from approximately 3,000 applications each year. Cepek will be the second current faculty member to receive the Guggenheim Fellowship. UTSA Historian and Author Catherine Clinton, the Gilbert M. Denman Endowed Professor in American History, received the fellowship in 2016.


“Since coming to UTSA, he has helped shape our program in environmental anthropology both through his research and by mentoring a growing cadre of students.”



Cepek is an internationally respected cultural anthropologist whose research explores the relationship between environmental change, cultural difference and political power in the Andean foothills and Amazonian forests of Ecuador. He is a passionate spokesperson for anthropology who shares with his students the discipline’s capacity for the development of critical thinking and social responsibility as well as teamwork, communication and empirical research skills. His effectiveness as a teacher is due to both his passion for the field and his commitment to the welfare of marginalized and oppressed peoples.

The impact of Cepek’s research and community engagement can be seen most notably in his collaborations with the Indigenous Cofán Nation of eastern Ecuador. Visiting the Cofán nearly every year over the past three decades, Cepek has advanced community-engaged research and activism to educate the world about the Cofán’s contemporary lives and to aid the tribe in its political struggles.

Cepek’s work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Institute for Citizens & Scholars, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Fulbright Program.

The UTSA researcher is also an accomplished author. His 2012 book, “A Future for Amazonia: Randy Borman and Cofán Environmental Politics,” examines the Cofán’s struggle to bring economic resources, academic expertise and political power to their people through partnerships with scientists, conservationists and the Ecuadorian state.

His 2018 book, “Life in Oil: Surviving Disaster in the Petroleum Fields of Amazonia,” assesses how 50 years of oil extraction have impacted Cofán lands and lives and how the Cofán have managed to maintain a meaningful existence in a petroleum-saturated environment.

Cepek will use the Guggenheim Fellowship to co-author a third book with his Cofán collaborator and shamanic mentor, Cesario Lucitante. The book, “Visionary Violence: Shamanism, Dispossession, and Death in Amazonia,” will describe how Lucitante uses his mastery of yaje—also known as ayahuasca, Amazonia’s most important hallucinogen—to battle violence, sickness and displacement at the hands of settlers from other Ecuadorian provinces. The forthcoming book is already under contract with The University of Texas Press, which published Cepek’s first two books.

Cepek contributes to efforts that provide direct benefits to the Cofán People. He is president of the Cofán Survival Fund, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) that supports Cofán-directed environmental, medical and educational projects in Ecuador. Cepek has secured hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the primary, secondary, undergraduate and graduate educations of Cofán students in Ecuador’s best schools and universities. Additionally, he produces many works for Cofán political causes, including policy papers, expert reports, amicus briefs and documentary films.

He recruited and secured funds for two English-speaking members of a Cofán community to earn their doctorates in anthropology at UTSA. He is advising both students as they study the culture, history and politics of their people to become the first Indigenous Amazonians with doctorates in anthropology from a U.S. institution.

Cepek has an extensive record of service to the field of anthropology. He reviews for many journals, presses and funding agencies, and he sits on the editorial boards of Social Analysis: The International Journal of Anthropology and PoLAR: The Political and Legal Anthropology Review.

His service to the UTSA community is likewise extensive. He advises eight doctoral students and four master’s students. His own grants and fellowships, as well as those of his graduate students, have brought nearly $1,000,000 in external funding to UTSA.


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⇒ Learn more about Michael Cepek's work.

At the same time, he is an active chair and member of multiple committees at the department, college and university levels and has been the recipient of President’s Distinguished Achievement Awards for excellence in teaching (2016), excellence in community engagement (2021) and excellence in core curriculum teaching (2021).

 “I am so pleased to see Mike’s work honored in this way. It is well deserved,” said Thad Bartlett, chair of the UTSA Department of Anthropology. “Since coming to UTSA, he has helped shape our program in environmental anthropology both through his research and by mentoring a growing cadre of students who share his commitment to ethical research that puts community engagement on equal footing with scholarly products. This is a great individual honor, but it also contributes to our efforts to grow the international reputation of our department. We are lucky to have a colleague whose work so greatly contributes to this collective effort.”

Nick Ward and Michael Cepek



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