Robert Launay Professor
Research and teaching interests
The history and ‘prehistory’ of anthropological theory, as well as its contemporary developments; the anthropology of scriptural religions, with particular focus on Islam; the historical ethnography of West Africa.
Robert Launay is a social/cultural anthropologist trained in the United States, England, and France. He has conducted extensive field work in West Africa (specifically in Côte d’Ivoire) with Muslim minorities historically specializing in trade. His first book, Traders without Trade (Cambridge University Press), focused on how this minority was able to adapt to its loss over its former trade monopoly. His second book, Beyond the Stream: Islam and Society in a West African Town (University of California Press), which won the Amaury Talbot Prize for best African ethnography in England in 1992, dealt specifically with religious change and controversy. Nowadays, with Côte d’Ivoire divided into two hostile camps under an uneasy truce, he works extensively with applicants from the country seeking political asylum in the United States. He envisages future field work on francophone African immigrants, especially from Côte d’Ivoire, to the U.S.
After years of teaching the history of anthropology to undergraduates and graduates alike in the department, he has begun research on the history of the discipline, publishing several articles on the history of ethnography in Africa (particularly in French) and, more extensively, on the ‘prehistory’ of the field. He is currently working on a book manuscript, Savages, Despots, and Romans: The Urge to Compare and the Origins of Anthropology, tracing the ways in which “modern Europeans” came to define themselves with reference to non-moderns (ancient Greeks and Romans in particular) and non-Europeans from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries.
Robert Launay is editing an anthology of early sources in anthropology, Foundations of Anthropological Theory: From classical antiquity to the eighteenth century, for Wiley/Blackwell which is scheduled to be published in February 2010.
Recent courses taught
- 232 Myth and Symbolism
- 330 Peoples of the World (Anthropology & Islam)
- 350 Anthropology of Religions (religion in Africa)
- 370 Anthropology in Historical Perspectives
- 470 History of Anthropological Theory
- 474 Seminar in Religion and Values (Anthropology of Scriptural Religion)
- 475 Contemporary Theory
Foundations of Anthropological Theory: from classical antiquity to early modern Europe, edited volume, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010
Writing Boards and Blackboards: Islamic education in Africa, edited volume, Indiana University Press (in preparation)
Savages, Despots and Romans: The urge to compare and the origins of anthropology. (in preparation)
“Myth and Music: the musical epigraphs to The Raw and the Cooked”, Histories of Anthropology Annual, 7, 83-90. 2011
“Lewis Henry Morgan,” Oxford Bibliographies Online in “Anthropology”. Ed. John L. Jackson, Jr. New York: Oxford University Press, January 2012.
With Rudolph Ware III, “Comment (ne pas) lire le Coran? Logiques de l’enseignement religieux au Sénégal et en Côte d’Ivoire. » In Gilles Holder, ed., L'islam, nouvel espace public en Afrique, Paris : Karthala 2009, pp. 127-145
“New Frontiers and Conversion.” In The New Cambridge History of Islam, vol. 6: Muslims and Modernity; Culture and Society since 1800, ed. Robert Hefner. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 254-267.
"Cardinal Directions: Africa’s shifting place in early modern European conceptions of the world”, Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines L (2-3-4), 198-199-200, 2010, pp. 455-470.
“Lafitau revisited: American “savages” and universal history”, Anthropologica 52 (2010) 337-343
“Practical Joking.” Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines, XLVI (4), 2006, pp. 795-808
"An Invisible Religion? Anthropology’s Avoidance of Islam in Africa’" David Mills, Mustafa Babiker and Mwenda Ntarangwi, eds., African Anthropologies: History, Critique, and Practice, CODESRIA and Zed Books, 2006, pp. 188-203.
"Islam and Civil Strife in Cote d’Ivoire," African Studies Association Annual Meetings, Washington DC, 2005
"From Sashimi to Sagamite: Travel Books and Exotic Tastes, " Culinary Historians of Chicago, Food and Foodways Roundtable. 2005
Beyond the Stream: Islam and Society in a West African Town. Reissued with a new preface, Waveland Press, 2004.
"Changing Paradigms of Islamic Education in Cote d’Ivoire and Mali", State Department Conference on Koranic education in Africa, the Middle East, and Pakistan, Washington, DC, 2004.
"Tasting the World: Food in Early European Travel Narratives," Food and Foodways, 11, 1, 2003, pp. 27-47.
"Writes of Passage: The Cape of Good Hope in Late Seventeenth – Century Narratives of Travel to Asia" in Maghan Keita, ed., Conceptualizing/ Re-conceptualizing Africa: The Construction of African Historical Identity, Brill, 2002, pp. 89-106.
"Montesquieu: The specter of despotism and the origins of comparative Law", in Annelise Riles, ed., Rethinking the Masters of Comparative Law, Hart Publishing, 2001, pp. 22-38.