Faculty & Staff

Celeste Ray

Professor of Anthropology
Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
M.Sc., University of Edinburgh
B.A., University of Florida


R. Celeste Ray trained in cultural anthropology, ecological anthropology and archaeology and her teaching and research remains focused on these subfields. Her publications have considered regionalism, cultural creolization, ethnic identities, and the meaning of heritage. Professor Ray’s current research considers holy wells and sacred landscapes in Ireland and folklore about healing springs on the Cumberland Plateau.

In a master’s degree in Cultural Resource Management at the University of Edinburgh, Ray considered the politics of Scottish national identity  in the study and presentation of the nation’s battlefields. Her ‌Ph.D. dissertation considered what Americans of Scottish descent make of that identity and how they claim particular visions of Scottishness as “heritage.” Her first book, Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans in the American South, drew on several years of additional ethnographic fieldwork to examine the renegotiation of Scottish traditions in a southern context.  Following a 2005 Research Fellowship with the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, she published an interdisciplinary collection with twelve contributors from four different countries and seven different disciplines considering the history of Scottish immigration to Canada and the U.S. and the varied experiences of Transatlantic Scots. ‌

Other volumes have further considered southern regionalism and cultural hybridity. To document the cultural  layering and complexity of a region historically depicted by simplistic stereotypes, the edited collection Southern Heritage on Display: Public Ritual and Ethnic Diversity within Southern Regionalism ‌‌ examined festivals and public gatherings such as New Orleans’ Jazz Funerals, southern Powwows, and San Antonio’s Fiesta.  Despite the long title, the interdisciplinaryvolume won a Choice Award. Also in 2003, Ray edited Signifying Serpents and Mardi Gras Runners with Eric Lassiter. This collection is Volume 36 of the Proceedings of the Southern Anthropological Society, of which Professor Ray is a former president. 

In 2007, Ray published Ethnicity, Vol. 6 of The NewEncyclopedia of Southern Culture.  This work expands the original “Ethnic Life” section of the 1989 Encyclopedia from consideration of 30 to 88 ethnic groups with over 80 new contributors, and adds 34 entries on federally & state recognized Native American Nations. Research on ethnicity is the study of a moving target as new southerners regularly arrive from around the world. Perhaps the most constant thing about regionalism—is its continual evolution.

In her current research, Professor Ray focuses on sacred landscapes and holy wells in Ireland. Holy wells can be springs, ponds, or even entire lakes, which are sites of religious devotion and can sometimes be blessed with “a cure” for particular ailments.  Her most recent volume, The Origins of Ireland’s Holy Wells, is a reconsideration of archaeological evidence for sacred watery sites in northwestern European prehistory and the varied sources of evidence for sacred springs in Ireland over the Longue Durée. Her other work on the subject considers associated saint cults and wellside folk liturgies. In Ireland, blessed wells remain sites of daily individual devotions and hundreds are a regular part of parish life. Her research has been funded by National Geographic and a John B. Stephenson Fellowship.

Research Areas:
Religion and Ecology, Ethnicity and Heritage, Ethnohistory
Ireland, Scotland, South Tirol and the American South

[Apparently there are other Celeste Ray’s with interests in Scotland and Ireland. This one does not publically sing or sell CD’s.]