Jonathan Zilberg is a cultural anthropologist specializing in art and religion. Since the early 1980s, he has been exploring religious symbolism in diverse art forms past and present in Central America, Africa and Southeast Asia. His enduring interests are in aesthetics, ritual and authenticity. Living in Asia, his current work focuses on how ideas and imagery, sound and sentiment are being increasingly contested by fundamentalist pressures. He began working with the National Museum of Costa Rica in 1983 on pre-Colombian petroglyph iconography and since then has conducted ethnographic and archival research in museums and arts institutions in the US, the UK, France and in Africa at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe before becoming involved in civil society and gender initiatives in the context of development.
His paper titled From Bloodstains to Brancusi: A History of Zimbabwean Modernism represents the culmination of two decades of research on the inspirational and institutional arts connections linking Africa, Europe and America. In 1996 he completed his doctorate work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a thesis titled Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture: The Invention of a Shona Tradition. He has published a number of articles on the history and authenticity of Shona sculpture and on popular culture and is perhaps best known in anthropological circles for his analysis of the popularity of Dolly Parton in Africa and of youth culture and Americana in Zimbabwe. Above all, he is committed to creative inter-disciplinary interaction in the humanities though he maintains a deep attachment to science and environmental activism. Currently he is working on the history of Indic textiles represented on the Hindu-Buddhist sculptures in the collection in the National Museum of Indonesia while simultaneously studying contemporary textiles, popular culture, and religious pluralism through his work as an activist-scholar experimenting with combining art, literature and ethnography.