27 December 2019

Obituary: Birgitte Refslund Sørensen

It is with great sadness the Department of Anthropology shares news of the death of Associate Professor Birgitte Refslund Sørensen. She was buried on December 19th at Torslunde Kirke, where her family, friends and colleagues gathered to say goodbye. Birgitte was diagnosed with ALS two years ago, but she died of pneumonia. Birgitte was on the research staff at the department for more than 25 years.

Birgitte received her PhD at this department in 1994, under the supervision of Ann-Lisbeth Arn and Kirsten Hastrup. Throughout her work-life, Birgitte chose to focus on weighty research themes within political anthropology; war and conflict, a field within which she enjoyed international and interdisciplinary recognition. In her early career, Birgitte researched the civil war in Sri Lanka, where she was also deployed as a UN program director. In line with a work-life characterized by her ability to speak to both academic and everyday communities, Birgitte also worked for the Danish Refugee Council and provided program evaluations internationally for postwar and post-catastrophe re-building and education projects in countries in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Since 2010, Birgitte turned her research efforts towards Denmark as a warring nation, with particular focus on veterans. She was a key player in building a group of researchers with expertise within this field, including both experienced and early career researchers. Her work with veterans is published in internationally renowned journals such as Current Anthropology, American Anthropologist, Ethnos, and Conflict and Society (part of Berghahn Books), where you can read some of her most recent publications.

Birgitte was highly regarded by her colleagues. She never shied away from a good debate, and she contributed generously with her opinion and her vast knowledge, but she will be particularly remembered for her infectious laughter. We could always count on Birgitte as a colleague and we will miss her sorely.  As a supervisor, she was both feared and loved by her many PhD students. Her main demand was: “Proof, please!” In a Festschrift dedicated to Birgitte, her students described her as: “Dedicated. Honest. Hard to impress. Thorough. Rarely gives praise. Loyal. Devil’s advocate. Bright. Sarcastic. Daring. Engaged. Sincere. Strong-willed.” In her usual generous way, she responded: “Many of my PhD students have pointed out that they rarely received praise from me. That’s funny, because I always felt like I had the department’s best PhD students – and I hope of course that other supervisors feel the same way!” In other words, another example of why we liked Birgitte so much and why any institution like ours would be lucky to have a colleague like her.

Birgitte is survived by her husband, Vincente and their daughter, Malene. The Department of Anthropology sends their deepest felt condolences and is thankful, that we were able to share her with you.