Skip to content Skip to navigation

Basic Info

Esiteli Hafoka

Esiteli Hafoka

Esiteli Hafoka is a PhD candidate in the Religious Studies Department at Stanford University. She received her MA from Stanford and her BA in Religious Studies and Ancient History from UC Riverside. Esiteli’s dissertation surveys Tongan historical narratives, ethnographies, social media, and personal interviews to argue that religion is essential to understanding Tongan collective identity in America. Her dissertation identifies religious threads connecting 19th c. Methodist Christianity, Mormonism, national Tongan democracy, and Tongan Crip Gang members in Utah. Esiteli’s research reveals the ways Tongans navigate their racial identity in America through a religious epistemology, and how, for Tongan Americans, religion and race are co-constitutional.

Out of about 60,000 Tongans in the U.S., Esiteli is currently the only Tongan PhD student at Stanford—it would not be a stretch to claim that she is the first Tongan PhD student at Stanford.  As of 2017, there are six known Tongan women who hold PhDs in the U.S., and Esiteli is among a few in the pipeline. Doctoral students often address the loneliness of PhD study but her own experiences with loneliness are compounded by the pressures of representing an entire ethnic demographic. The added weight of becoming a parent in graduate school protracted Esiteli's time to degree, but she was fortunate to receive the DARE fellowship through the VPGE at Stanford to complete researching and writing her dissertation while still providing for her family.