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Richard T. Antoun papers

Identifier: BUA-0010


Richard T. "Dick" Antoun (March 31, 1932 – December 4, 2009) was an American anthropologist who specialized in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies. He was a Professor Emeritus at Binghamton University. His work centered on religion and the social organization of tradition in Islamic law and ethics, among other things. The collection comprises 40 boxes of book manuscripts, class lecture notes, and field work notes. These materials were removed from several filing cabinets in Professor Antoun's department office. The collection is unprocessed. Email with inquiries.


  • 1970 - 2009

Biographical Note

Richard T. Antoun was born March 31, 1932 in Worcester, Massachusetts. He grew up in Shrewsbury, MA, graduating from Shrewsbury High School in 1949. He received his B.A. from Williams College (1953; History), his M.A. from Johns Hopkins University (1955; International Relations), and his Ph.D. from Harvard University (1963; Anthropology and Middle Eastern studies; thesis on Kufr al-Ma: A Village in Jordan, A Study of Social Structure and Social Control). Antoun was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and a Fulbright Scholar.

In October 1959 Antoun began his career with ethnographic field work in Jordan. Over the next four decades, he lived intermittently in Kufr al-Ma—a small Sunni Muslim village—studying the Quran with the local self-educated preacher. He also did field work in Beirut, Lebanon (1965 and 1966), Gorgan, Iran (1971 and 1972), and Katerini, Greece (1993).

During his career he taught at the Manchester University in England (1960–62), Harvard University (1963), Indiana University (1963–70), American University of Beirut (1965–67), the University of Chicago (1977), Cairo University (1989), and Binghamton University (1970–2009). At Binghamton he became the Bartle Professor of Anthropology. He was “a sociocultural anthropologist who conducted research among peasants in Jordan, urbanites in Lebanon, peasant farmers in Iran, and migrants in Texas and Greece”. In 1981 he was elected President of the Middle East Studies Association of North America. In 1999 he became a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Binghamton, and continued to conduct research and hold an office on campus. He did not teach many classes, nor could he chair any dissertation committees, because of his emeritus status.

Binghamton University campus police were called to Antoun’s office at 1:41 p.m. on December 4, 2009. Antoun, 77 years old at the time, had been stabbed four times in the chest with a 6-inch kitchen blade while in his office, suffered a punctured lung, and died. The suspect was still in the university's Science 1 building when police arrived; they tackled the suspect, and frisked him. When they inquired about Antoun, witnesses said he replied, "Yeah, I just stabbed him." The knife used in the stabbing was later recovered. The suspect, Abdulsalam S. al-Zahrani, was a 46-year-old Binghamton University cultural anthropology graduate student from Saudi Arabia. Antoun had worked with al-Zahrani, and had known him for quite some time. Antoun served on the three-person doctoral dissertation committee that was to judge al-Zahrani's dissertation, Sacred Voice, Profane Sight: The Senses, Cosmology, and Epistemology in Early Arabic Culture.

Al-Zahrani pleaded guilty on May 20, 2011, to one felony count of first-degree manslaughter, and agreed not to appeal his sentence. In September 2011 he was sentenced in Broome County Court to 15 years in prison. He is to be deported to Saudi Arabia after he serves his prison sentence.

Antoun left behind a legacy in his writings. He wrote >Understanding Fundamentalism: Christian, Islamic and Jewish Movements in 2001; the book came out just before the September 11 attacks. Sally K. Gallagher reviewed it for Sociology of Religion, writing that the book "is a readable overview and introduction to how conservative elites and communities in three monotheistic religious traditions orient themselves to modernity." Peter A. Huff, reviewing it, said that Antoun wrote about how "his presence [in the village] became increasingly problematic as the climate of the cultural environment dramatically changed. Dialogue turned argumentative, and outspoken villagers, especially young men, attempted to convert him to Islam. From Antouns perspective, he was witnessing the birth of a local strain of fundamentalism." Scott R. Appleby, reviewing it for the Middle East Quarterly, wrote "There is much to commend in this general and accessible overview."

Antoun's earlier works include Documenting Transnational Migration: Jordanian Men Wing Disputes in Different Cultures, edited by Guy Oliver Faure, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003 and "Fundamentalism, Bureaucratization, and the State's Co-optation of Religion: A Jordanian Case Study," The International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 38, No. 3, August 2006.


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Part of the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections Repository

Binghamton NY 13902 USA