James D. Sexton, PhD

James D. Sexton Regents' Professor Emeritus
Northern Arizona University
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  • culture change
  • methodology
  • behavioral anthropology
  • folklore
  • Middle, Central and South America, and Southeast Asia


BA, MA, PhD, University of California-Los Angeles 1973


After earning a bachelor's degree in anthropology from UCLA, Sexton began studying for a master's degree.  The US Army, however, interrupted his graduate studies with a call to active duty, which included a tour of duty in Vietnam and a leave to Thailand.  

After a military leave of absence, Sexton returned to UCLA where he completed a master's degree in 1971 and a PhD in 1973.  The same year he began teaching at NAU, where he received the NAU President's Award for excellence in teaching, research, and service in 1981.  Sexton was named Regents' Professor in 1991, and was selected as the NAU Phi Kappa Phi Faculty Scholar in 1997.

Travels to Alaska and Canada in 2009 and to Germany and France in 2010 have enhanced the introduction to my course on anthropological perspectives of folklore of the world. Travels to Ireland in 2003 and 2010; to Germany and France in 2010, to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand in 2004 and in 2008; to Australia in 2005; and to Guatemala in 2011 have enhanced the Celtic, Southeast Asian, Aboriginal Australian, and Mayan blocks of the course. 

Over the last forty-one years, travels to Puerto Rico, Barbados, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panamá, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Péru, and Bolivia have enriched my courses on Latin America. 

Eighteen field trips to Guatemala  have resulted in a number of articles and books with "Depiction of Animals in the Popol Vuh and Current Mayan Folktales" (2010) and The Dog Who Spoke and More Mayan Folktales / El perro que habló y más cuentos mayas (2010) the most recent.

Sexton is a past president of the Southwestern Anthropological Association, and he is a member of the board of editors for the Delaware Review of Latin American Studies, an Internet journal.  In addition to Latin America and Southeast Asia, he specializes in qualitative and quantitative research methods, psychological anthropology, life histories, folklore, development, modernization, and cultural change.

Geographically, I am especially interested in Latin American, Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia.  Among the highland Maya, I have had an active program of research and publication for the last 41 years.  

Latin American Research Program

Beginning in 1970, Dr. James Sexton began his Guatemalan field school and research project. The initial field experience in Guatemala was so rewarding that he returned 19 more times, sometimes for the summer and fall seasons, other times for just a few weeks.

Based on his field research, he has published articles on his research dealing with development modernization, and culture change in such journals as the Latin American Indian Literatures JournalReviews in Anthropology, American Ethnologist, Human Organization, Anthropology and Education Quarterly, and the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychol­ogy.

Dr. Sexton published the following books: Educa­tion and Innovation in a Guatemalan Community (UCLA Latin American Center, 1972), Son of Tecún Umán (University of Arizona Press, 1981, and Waveland Press, 1990), Campesino (University of Arizona Press, 1985), Ignacio (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), Mayan Folktales (Doubleday Anchor, 1992, and University of New Mexico Press, 1999), Heart of Heaven, Heart of Earth (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999), Joseño (University of New Mexico Press, 2001), and The Dog Who Spoke and More Mayan Folktales / El perro que habló y más cuentos mayas (University of Oklahoma Press, 2010).