Ryang currently holds a National Science Foundation grant researching North Korea and anthropology of totalitarianism. This project attempts practicing anthropological research in a society where a researcher is prohibited from conducting ethnographic fieldwork. By revisiting the American cultural anthropological tradition of Study of Culture at a Distance, mostly practiced during the height of the Cold War, Ryang is exploring a mixed-method approach to study a closed society (North Korea, in this case) by deploying anthropological logic.
Born in Japan to Korean parents, Sonia Ryang grew up speaking both Korean and Japanese. Ryang received a Ph.D. degree in Social Anthropology from Cambridge University, England, and worked as a Research Fellow at the Research School for Pacific and Asian Studies, the Australian National University, before being appointed as Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. Ryang moved to the University of Iowa as an endowed chair of Korean Studies and professor of Anthropology. At Iowa, she directed the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies and also served as the Director of Academic Programs in the University of Iowa International Programs.