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Frédérique Apffel-Marglin earned a B.A. and Ph.D. from Brandeis University. She was first a student of Indian classical dance (Orissi style) and did field research among the temple dancers of Jagannath Temple in Orissa in the mid-1970s. Her later field research was among agricultural communities in coastal Orissa. In 1994, she began collaborative work with nongovernmental organizations in Peru and Bolivia and taught in graduate courses that those organizations offered from 1994 to 2005. She was the coordinator of the Centers for Mutual Learning in Peru and Bolivia during that period. This project was funded by a MacArthur grant until 1999. With the Peruvian NGO PRATEC, Apffel-Marglin created a research and community center in the Peruvian High Amazon, where she directed a program in biocultural diversity for U.S. undergraduates from 2001 to 04.
In the spring of 2009, Apffel-Marglin founded the nonprofit organization Center Sachamama, dedicated to the regeneration of both the local ecology in the Peruvian High Amazon and the local indigenous culture. The center is an educational organization that aims to integrate theory, research, activism and spirituality.
Apffel-Marglin was a research adviser at the World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) in Helsinki, an affiliate of the United Nations University, from 1985 to 1991. As part of that endeavor, she and Stephen Marglin formed an interdisciplinary and international collaborative team that has produced three books on critical approaches to development and globalization.
She currently directs a six-week summer program, "Ecology, Community and Indigenous Spirituality in the High Amazon," which includes an intensive-language program. This course is administered by the nonprofit organization Living Routes.
Apffel-Marglin is the author of five books, the editor or co-editor of an additional seven books and the author of more than fifty articles and book chapters. Her interests cover ritual, gender, political ecology, critiques of development, science studies and Andean-Amazonian shamanism. Her areas of specialization are South Asia and the Amazonian Andes. Her latest book is Subversive Spiritualities: How Rituals Enact the World, Oxford University Press, 2012.