Emily Ng

Assistant Professor of Anthropology


Emily Ng is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work centers on madness and subjectivity, religion and cosmopolitics, and how historical worlds and wounds reverberate across geographies and generations. She is interested in how psychic life can offer a site for rethinking politics, and how the symptom can be approached across scales. Ng has conducted ethnographic research in urban and rural China, and alongside her anthropological work, she has trained clinically as a therapist. Her book A Time of Lost Gods: Mediumship, Madness, and the Ghost after Mao explores madness between psychiatric and cosmological registers, and personhood between generational impasse, crises of sovereignty, and haunting. Drawing on research at the hospital, the temple, and the home altars of spirit mediums, the book traces a different vision of the post-Mao present than those in more common accounts of secularization and revival. Recently, she has been working on sensory experiences of the unseen across religious communities in China.


Ph.D., Medical Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley (joint program with UC San Francisco)

Research Interests

Medical anthropology, psychological anthropology, madness and mental illness, subjectivity and personhood, political cosmologies and cosmopolitics, post/socialism and post/colonialism, China, East Asia.

Selected Publications

 2020. A Time of Lost Gods: Madness, Mediumship, and the Ghost after Mao. University of California Press. 

Selected Articles:

2021. “Affect, Blankness, Theatrics: Rurality and Faciality in Three Chinese Instances,” Asian Cinema, 32 (2), 145-167.

2021. “Ritual Futures: Spirit Mediumship as Chronotopic Labor,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 57(3), 288-294.

2021. “Sensing the Presence of Gods and Spirits across Cultures and Faiths,” Tanya Marie Luhrmann, Kara Weisman, Felicity Aulino, Joshua D. Brahinsky, John C. Dulin, Vivian A. Dzokoto, Cristine H. Legare, Michael Lifshitz, Emily Ng, Nicole Ross-Zehnder, and Rachel E. Smith, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), Feb. 2.

2020. “Spectral Revolution: Notes on a Maoist Cosmology,” Made in China Journal, 5(2): 104-111.

2020. “The Mind and the Devil: Porosity and Discernment in Two Chinese Charismatic-style Churches,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 26(1): 95-113. 

2020. “Agrarian Labor as Technology of the Subject: The Dutch Colonies of Benevolence and the Maoist Sent-Down Movement,” Collateral: Online Journal for Cross-Cultural Close Reading, Cluster 23.

2010. “Anak PKI: A Longitudinal Case Study of the Effects of Social Ostracism, Violence and Bullying on an Adolescent Javanese Boy,” Robert Lemelson, Ninik Supartini, and Emily Ng, in Formative Experiences: The Interaction of Caregiving, Culture, and Developmental Psychobiology, C. M. Worthman, P. Plotsky, D. S. Schechter, eds, pp. 378-389. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2009. “Heartache of the State, Enemy of the Self: Bipolar Disorder and Cultural Change in Urban China,” Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, 33(3): 421-450.



Faculty Status