Bowen, John R. 1951–
Bowen, John R. 1951–
(John Richard Bowen)
Born 1951. Education: Earned Ph.D.
Office—Washington University in St. Louis, 1 Brookings Dr., St. Louis, MO 63130. E-mail—[email protected]
Educator and anthropologist. Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, Dunbar-Van Cleve Professor in Arts & Sciences.
(Editor, with John W. Bennett) Production and Autonomy: Anthropological Studies and Critiques of Development, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 1988.
Muslims through Discourse: Religion and Ritual in Gayo Society, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1993.
(Editor) Religion in Culture and Society, Allyn & Bacon (Boston, MA), 1998.
Religions in Practice: An Approach to the Anthropology of Religion, Allyn & Bacon (Boston, MA), 1998, 3rd edition, 2005.
Why the French Don't Like Headscarves: Islam, the State, and Public Space, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2006.
Contributor to journals, including Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Boston Review, American Anthropologist, and World Politics.
John R. Bowen is the Dunbar-Van Cleve Professor in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Bowen's primary research interests in socio-anthropology include aesthetic genres, religious practices, and legal discourse. He has conducted fieldwork in Indonesia, particularly in the Gayo Highlands of the northwesternmost province of Aceh. Bowen is a contributor to a number of academic journals and periodicals, including the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Boston Review, American Anthropologist, and World Politics.
Bowen published Sumatran Politics and Poetics: Gayo History, 1900-1989 in 1991. The book covers the Gayo ethnic group of Aceh on Indonesia's Sumatra island. The book marks the first in-depth ethnology of these people since that of Snouck Hurgronje nearly one hundred years earlier. D.M.E. Roskies, writing in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, found that "the author's encyclopedic knowledge of the subject is no less impressive than his elective affinity for his subject. He possesses a gift for distilling shrewd judgments from fieldwork, the execution of which clearly called for extraordinary reserves of good humor and patience and perseverance in the teeth of initial rebuff. If for no other reasons, the book can be warmly recommended to a diversity of academic readers." Roskies concluded that "Bowen's style of writing, to be sure, inclines to infelicity and its prolixity can be taxing. Such shortcomings seem nonetheless a small price to pay for the plenitude of insights on offer here. This splendid and beautifully printed book takes its rightful place alongside the distinguished studies of Siegel on Aceh, Mark Woodward on Islam in Central Java, and Vicente Rafael on the Philippines. Like them, it will be seen to have broken new ethnographic and methodological ground in the study of island Southeast Asia."
In 1993 Bowen published Muslims through Discourse: Religion and Ritual in Gayo Society. This book takes the Sumatran Gayo people discussed in Bowen's earlier book as its case study for showing how religious communities view themselves as compared to culturally different groups of the same religion. Merlin Swartz, writing in the International Journal of Comparative Sociology, insisted "that the anthropological project as conceived by Bowen is entirely legitimate—indeed, indispensable if we are to understand contemporary Islam in both its diversity and the interconnectedness of its various regional expressions. But I would also contend that it remains one among a variety of legitimate (though limited) approaches to the study of Islam." Swartz concluded that the author "has made an important contribution not only in adding significantly to our understanding of Gayo Islam and its relationship to the wider community of Muslims but in showing how such study can benefit from an approach that is mindful of developments in related fields of study." Robert W. Hefner, writing in MAN, noted "fewer references to contemporary scholarship on politics and religious rationalization in other areas of Malaysia and Indonesia than one would expect given the otherwise expansive horizons of this book. But Bowen's ability to portray the controversies animating Gayo Islam and illuminate their relationship to broader trends in the modern Muslim world makes this a study that should be read by all students of Southeast Asia and all students of Islam."
Bowen initially published Religions in Practice: An Approach to the Anthropology of Religion in 1998 and released the book's third edition in 2005. The book is presented in the form of a textbook geared towards undergraduate students of the anthropology of religion. Topics include belief, magic, rites of passage, witchcraft, taboo, pilgrimage, speech, religious objects, and relations between various religions and governments in modern times. Gregory Forth, writing in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, found it "disappointing that the volume does not critically address the utility of ‘religion’ as a category of anthropological comparison and generalization." Forth concluded that "despite this limitation, the book is well-written, readable and likely to hold the attention of its intended audience. It is at least as good as other books in the genre, and in several respects better than many."
Bowen published Why the French Don't Like Headscarves: Islam, the State, and Public Space in 2006 after spending some time in France. Bowen analyzes the 2004 French law that passed overwhelmingly to forbid students from brazenly wearing religious symbols, such as Muslim headscarves, Christian cross necklaces, or Jewish skull caps. He proposes that it was a liberal political tactic to win support from the public at large over a growing uneasiness of the role religion was playing in French society. Mitchell Cohen, reviewing the book in the New York Times Book Review, remarked that Bowen "provides a useful account of the controversy itself, but he also commits some odd factual errors." Cohen criticized Bowen for taking a "wobbly approach to French republican ideas." Aziz Z. Hug, writing in Colorlines Magazine, found that the book did not deal with the racism towards Muslims in the United States and Europe, but instead, focused simply "on explaining their meaning for non-Muslim majorities." Hug did credit the book for exposing "much more about the need of whites to deny the centrality of racism in the oppression and scapegoating of Muslims in the United States and Europe." Philip H. Gordon, writing in Foreign Affairs, commented that the author's "argument makes sense," adding that he "provides a good discussion of France's historical traditions." Yael Slater, reviewing the book for the Journal of International Affairs, found that the author's "analysis adds a great deal to the intellectual debate over Islam's position in France." Slater also predicted that the perspectives expressed in Why the French Don't Like Headscarves "will inspire even more fresh ideas on religion's place in the public sphere."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Anthropologist, December, 1992, review of Sumatran Politics and Poetics: Gayo History, 1900-1989, p. 973; September, 1994, Lawrence Rosen, review of Muslims through Discourse: Religion and Ritual in Gayo Society, p. 742; March, 1999, Robert Hefner, review of Religions in Practice: An Approach to the Anthropology of Religion, p. 202.
American Ethnologist, November, 1992, Joel S. Kahn, review of Sumatran Politics and Poetics, p. 842; February, 1999, Mohamed A. Mahmoud, review of Muslims through Discourse, p. 232.
Asian Affairs, June, 1993, E.U. Kratz, review of Sumatran Politics and Poetics, p. 219.
Books, October 22, 2006, David Kirby, "A Look at Issues of Freedom, Religion and Identity," p. 7.
Colorlines Magazine, May 1, 2007, Aziz Z. Hug, review of Why the French Don't Like Headscarves: Islam, the State, and Public Space, p. 55.
Comparative Studies in Society and History, April, 1993, Mary Margaret Steedly, review of Sumatran Politics and Poetics, p. 453.
Ethnohistory, fall, 1993, Steven C. Caton, review of Sumatran Politics and Poetics.
Foreign Affairs, March 1, 2007, Philip H. Gordon, review of Why the French Don't Like Headscarves, p. 171.
History of Religions, May, 1996, Mark R. Woodward, review of Muslims through Discourse, p. 345.
International Journal of Comparative Sociology, November, 1998, Merlin Swartz, review of Muslims through Discourse, p. 408.
Journal of Asian Studies, November, 1993, Susan Rodgers, review of Muslims through Discourse, p. 1073.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, summer, 1992, Sharon A. Carstens, review of Sumatran Politics and Poetics.
Journal of International Affairs, September 22, 2007, Yael Slater, review of Why the French Don't Like Headscarves, p. 271.
Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, September, 1992, W.D. Wilder, review of Sumatran Politics and Poetics, p. 446.
Journal of the American Academy of Religion, winter, 1996, Richard T. Antoun, review of Muslims through Discourse; December, 2005, Mark R. Woodward, review of Islam, Law, and Equality in Indonesia: An Anthropology of Public Reasoning, p. 1192.
Journal of the American Oriental Society, January 1, 1997, D.M.E. Roskies, review of Sumatran Politics and Poetics, p. 197.
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, June, 1999, Gregory Forth, review of Religions in Practice, p. 310.
MAN, March, 1992, C.W. Watson, review of Sumatran Politics and Poetics, p. 204; December, 1994, Robert W. Hefner, review of Muslims through Discourse, p. 1012.
New Republic, March 5, 2007, David A. Bell, review of Why the French Don't Like Headscarves, p. 30.
New York Times Book Review, April 1, 2007, Mitchell Cohen, review of Why the French Don't Like Headscarves.
Reference & Research Book News, February, 2002, review of Religions in Practice, p. 10.
Times Literary Supplement, November 28, 2003, Robert Hefner, review of Islam, Law, and Equality in Indonesia, p. 27.
Washington University in St. Louis, Department of Anthropology Web site,http://artsci.wustl.edu/~anthro/ (April 11, 2008), author profile.