John Bowen

John Bowen

Professor Emeritus of Sociocultural Anthropology
Dunbar-Van Cleve Professor in Arts & Sciences
PhD, University of Chicago
research interests:
  • Religion and Ritual
  • Islam
  • Social Theory
  • Kinship and Social Organization
  • Historical Studies
  • Culture and Political Change
  • Sumatra
  • Indonesia
  • Europe
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    Professor Bowen’s research explores broad social transformations now taking place in Muslim communities worldwide.

    Bowen conducts ethnographic study in Indonesia, France, Britain, and the Netherlands, and works with students and colleagues with field sites across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In particular, he analyzes how Muslims (judges and scholars, public figures, and citizens) work across plural sources of norms and values, including diverse interpretations of the Islamic tradition, law codes and decisions, and local social norms. He draws on this research to critique public discourse about Muslims and Islam.


    recent courses

    Norms, Networks and Repertoires: The Anthropology of Institutions (L48 5312)

    We live our lives in social institutions: schools, courts, offices, hospitals, churches, and so forth, each one shaped by norms or rules, in which people form networks and draw on their repertoires for social action. Anthropologists and sociologists study institutions through ethnography, the close study of everyday interactions, albeit also incorporating approaches from politics and economics, and largely shaped by the traditions of social pragmatism. We explore the theoretical and empirical dimensions of an ethnographic and pragmatist approach through readings of Goffman, Foucault, and Bourdieu, and of more recent analyses of schools, courtrooms, immigration police, science laboratories, art, and other institutions.

      Europe's New Diversities (L48 4366)

      Since the late 1980's, three major upheavals have transformed European senses of identity. The demise of the Soviet Union has forced citizens of new "post-socialist' nations to forge new senses of belonging and new strategies of survival. The rise of a new public presence of Islam, and the growth of children of Muslim immigrants to adulthood, have challenged notions that Europe is a secular or post-Christian space. Finally, the heightened authority of European institutions has challenged the nation-state from above, and by granting new forms of sub-national autonomy to regions and peoples, from below. The new Europe is increasingly constituted by way of regional identifications and transnational movement(s), and by umbrella European legal and political organizations; these new realities occasion new rhetorics of secularism, nationalism, and ethnic loyalties. We examine these forms of diversity, movement, and debate by way of new works in anthropology, sociology and political science.

        Social Theory and Anthropology (L48 472)

        A seminar on social theory and its ethnographic implications. Course combines major works of modern social theory, including Marx, Weber, and Durkheim, with current work by contemporary anthropologists, such as Clifford Geertz, Eric Wolf, Marshall Sahlins, and Fredrik Barth, and ethnographers from related disciplines, such as Pierre Bourdieu and Paul Willis. Prerequisite: Previous anthropology coursework or permission of instructor.

          Selected Publications


          2016 On British Islam: Religion, Law, and Everyday Practice in Shari'a Councils. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

          2015 "France after Charlie Hebdo", Boston Review Forum, March, 2015. 

          2014 European States and Their Muslim Citizens: The Impact of Institutions on Perceptions and Boundaries, ed. John R Bowen, Christophe Bertossi, Jan Willem Duyvendak, and Mona Lena Krook. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

          2011 “How the French State Justifies Controlling Muslim Bodies: From Harm-based to Values-based Reasoning.” Social Research, Summer  2011, 78:2, 1-24. [pdf]

          2011 “Europeans Against Multiculturalism”, Boston Review, July/August 2011.

          2011 “The Republic and the Veil”, in Edward Berenson, Vincent Duclert, and Christophe Prochasson, eds., The French Republic: A Transatlantic History, pp. 272-77. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

          2010 Can Islam Be French? Pluralism and Pragmatism in a Secularist State.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

          2007 Why the French Don't Like Headscarves: Islam, the State, and Public Space.  Princeton: Princeton University Press. 


          2019 Women and Property Rights in Indonesian Islamic Contexts (senior editor, with Arskal Salim). Leiden: Brill. [

          2013 “Contours of Sharia in Indonesia”, in Mirjam Künkler and Alfred Stepan, eds. Democracy & Islam in Indonesia, pp. 149-67. New York: Columbia University Press.

          2008 "Intellectual Pilgrimages and Local Norms in Fashioning Indonesian Islam", Revue d'Etudes sur le Monde Musulman et la Méditerranée, 123: 37-54. [pdf]

          2005 "Normative Pluralism in Indonesia: Regions, Religions, and Ethnicities," in Will Kymlicka and Boagang He, eds., Multiculturalism in Asia: Theoretical Perspectives, pp. 152-69. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [pdf]

          2005 "Fairness and Law in an Indonesian Court", in M. Khalid Masud, David S. Powers, and Ruud Peters, eds., Dispensing Justice in Muslim Courts: Qadis, Procedures and Judgments, pp. 117-41. Leiden: Brill. [pdf]

          2004 "The Development of Southeast Asian Studies in the United States", in David L. Szanton, ed., The Politics of Knowledge: Area Studies and the Disciplines, pp. 386-425. Berkeley: University of California Press. 

          2003 Islam, Law and Equality in Indonesia: An Anthropology of Public Reasoning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (awarded the 2004 Herbert Jacobs Prize by the Law and Society Association for the "outstanding book" of 2003). 

          Theoretical and Comparative Studies

          2021 Pragmatic Inquiry: Critical Concepts for Social Sciences. John R. Bowen, Nicolas Dodier, Jan Willem Duyvendak, and Anita Hardon, eds. Abingdon, UK: Routledge. [Link]


          2020 “Are Societies Religious? (Or Is There a Better Question?).” The Immanent Frame.


          2018 “Gender, Islam, and Law,” in Siwan Anderson, Lori Beaman, and Jean-Philippe Platteau, eds., Towards Gender Equity in Development. WIDER Studies in Development Economics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


          2018 “Social Progress and Cultural Change,” John Bowen and Will Kymlicka (coordinating lead authors), Rethinking Society for the 21st Century, Report of the International Panel on Social Progress, pp. 609-37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (see proof at:

          2018 “Are identity politics emancipatory or regressive?” John Bowen and Will Kymlicka, The Conversation, April 18, 2018,

          2017 Religions in Practice, 7th revised edition. New York: Routledge.

          2016 “Anthropology of Islam”, Encyclopedia of Islam, 3rd edition. Leiden: Brill.

          2015 “Anthropology and Islamic Law”, in Kristen Stilt and Anvar Emon, eds., Oxford Handbook on Islamic Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

          2014 L’islam: l’ennemi idéal. Paris: Albin Michel

          2013 Religions in Practice: An Approach to the Anthropology of Religion, 6th revised edition. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

          2012 A New Anthropology of Islam. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

          2012 Blaming Islam. Cambridge: MIT Press.

          2011 "Islamic Adaptations to Western Europe and North America: The Importance of Contrastive Analyses", American Behavioral Scientist, 55: 1601-1615. [pdf]

          2010 “Secularism: Conceptual Genealogy or Political Dilemma?” Comparative Studies in Society and History 52 (3): 680-94. [pdf]

          2006 "Anti-Americanism as Schemas and Diacritics across Indonesia and France," in Peter Katzenstein and Robert Keohane, eds., Anti-Americanisms in World Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. [pdf]