An Anthropologist Figures out (in part) Retirement: the Origin of a Book on Memories and Meanderings in the Middle East.

  • 01 Nov 2016
  • 7:00 PM
  • Charles Sumner School


Registration is closed

In his forthcoming book, LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist's Journey into the Middle East, anthropologist John Mason plies the Libyan Desert and other corners of the Middle East to show us how Islam plays out in people’s lives. As a young anthropologist, he was inspired by the film, Lawrence of Arabia, but even more so some of Lawrence’s desert heroics. Islam is the backdrop for the larger story he tells. But the religion shows up in the detailed stories he relates, as in how it permeates the lives of the people he lived with in a Libyan Desert oasis, then in Cairo, and again in Tripoli, Libya.  He describes Islam not as monolithic but as a faith that takes different shapes depending on the place and the time. In his accounts of how Muslims live their lives, Mason does not see Islam as the cause of the constant turmoil in today’s Middle East. In countering such popular belief, he briefly explores some of the deeper causes of the chaos there. We now live in a world where Islam is the fastest growing religion, which by the end of this century is expected to outstrip Christianity. At the same time there is a mounting anti-Muslim fervor. Mason puts a human face on Muslims he has met and known and in so doing, reduces them from caricature to people worthy of serious consideration.  

This month’s presentation is particularly interesting and useful for students of anthropology.  Dr. Mason’s book does a wonderful job of answering, in lively and colorful detail, the oft asked questions: “what do anthropologists really do during their foreign fieldwork?  What is life actually like dropping into, and living in, a very different culture?”

But it will be equally interesting to veteran anthropologists who will be compelled to compare, and reminisce, about their own first fieldwork experiences as compared to those of Dr. Mason’s.


Date: November, 1
Time: 7:00 pm -9:00 pm
Location: Sumner School

Happy Hour from 5:00 - 7:00 PM at The Mayflower Hotel Edgar Restaurant (back room), 1127 Connecticut Avenue NW

Speaker Bio: John Mason, PhD., trained as a social anthropologist, has been involved in international socioeconomic development for more than four decades. He specialized in the following areas: program evaluation and monitoring, strategic planning and performance measurement; democracy and governance, transitional societies, and humanitarian assistance/disaster management. Mason also has a background in urban development, shelter and infrastructure, gender analysis, institutional and local organizational/community development, as well as training and team building/leadership. He has long-term field experience in the Arab and non-Arab Middle East, as well as considerable experience in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southwest Asia, Latin America/Caribbean, and Eastern Europe. He uses French and Arabic languages professionally. He was a university professor for several years, an official of United Nations HABITAT, a senior program manager in a variety of profit and not-for profit international development organizations, and an institutional contractor in USAID for several years. During 2007-09 Mason carried out a yearlong real-time evaluation of a World Bank Community Service Delivery Initiative in Kurdistan, N. Iraq, as well as a series of short-term assignments for USAID. The World Bank activity comprises a range of social science tools that Mason designed, including surveys, key informant interviews, focus group discussions, case studies, and ethnography.

In Mason’s work at Development Associates 2001-07, he served as an executive associate, including home office management of a USAID performance management contract with the Cairo mission. This entailed all of the performance monitoring and evaluation tasks for what isknown as Strategic Objective 16, or economic growth, a portfolio then at approximately $500 million. Just before his retirement in 2014, Mason held a retainer over five years for six months work a year on an exclusive basis, for Tetra Tech-ARD, Burlington, VT. He served as WAPA president in 1985-6. Mason is married, with two children and five grandchildren, all of whom live nearby. His personal interests are jogging and model railroading.

Meeting Venue:  Charles Sumner School, corner of 17th St and M St NW, Washington, DC

How to get there:  The Sumner School is located at 1201 17th St NW (corner of 17th St and M St NW).  The entrance to the meeting area is on 17th St under the black metal stairway. Directions from Metro Red Line: From Farragut North station, take either L St exit, walk one block east to 17th St, turn left and walk 2 blocks north.  Enter through the double doors under the black metal staircase. Check with security for the meeting room.

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