Robert Hefner headshot



Pardee School for Global Studies, Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs (CURA)

Areas of Expertise

Anthropology of ethics and morality; Islam and Islamic ethics; political and public anthropology; anthropology of education and knowledge; gender and subjectivity; citizenship and multiculturalism; Christianity and modernity; Southeast Asia, Western Europe, and the United States

View Professor Hefner’s CV


Robert W. Hefner is a professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Pardee School of Global Affairs at Boston University.  From 1986-2017, he worked with the sociologist Peter L. Berger and served as director and/or associate director of the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs (CURA) at Boston University.

Hefner is a social theorist who specializes in the anthropology of religion, ethics and law (including shariah law), education and youth development, as well as the comparative study of gender, citizenship, globalization, and modernity.  He has directed some 24 major research projects and organized 19 international conferences, on issues ranging from Muslim politics and shariah law to citizenship and civic education in Western democratic societies.  His research in recent years has had two thematic and areal foci: the politics and ethics of pluralist co-existence in the the Muslim-majority world, including especially Indonesia and Malaysia; and, second, social recognition and citizenship among Catholics, Muslims, and secular-liberals in France and the United States.  Hefner has published 21 edited or single-authored books, as well as seven major policy reports for the U.S. government and private foundations.  Seven of his book have been translated into Indonesian  and Malay; one has been published in Chinese.  With the support of the Henry Luce Foundation, Hefner is currently (2019-2021) co-producing (with Zainal Abidin Bagir of Gadjah Mada University) six films on plurality, gender, and citizenship in Indonesia.  He is also completing a book on Muslims, shariah law, and the quest for a modern Muslim ethics.

During 2009-2010, Hefner served as the elected president of the Association for Asian Studies, the largest professional association for Asian studies in the world. In 2007-2008 he was recognized as a Carnegie Scholar in Islam.  From 2016 to 2019, he was Director of the Religion and Education Committee in the United States-Indonesia Society (USINDO), as part of the Presidential Initiative undertaken by Presidents Barack Obama and Joko Widodo on “Religious Pluralism in Indonesia and the United States.”  During 2008-2009, he was the first Lee Kong Chian Fellow in Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore and Stanford University.  From 2007-2015 he was a Senior Professor in the Summer Graduate Program on Religion Culture, and Society at the University Centre-St. Ignatius, University of Antwerp, Belgium (2007-2009).  He has also been a visiting senior scholar at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, France; the Kroc Institute for Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame; the University of Cambridge (UK); the Department of Sociology at Fudan University (Shanghai); the Center for Asian Studies at Melbourne University (Australia); the Humanities Institute, Santa Cruz; the National University of Malaysia; the Institute for Advanced Studies (Princeton); and Gadjah Mada University (Yogyakarta).

Selected Publications

  • Forthcoming 2020. Co-editor with Zainal Abidin Bagir. Indonesian Pluralities: Social Recognition and Citizenship in a Muslim Democracy. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press
  • 2020 “The Best and Most Trying of Times: Islamic Education and the Challenge of Modernity.” In Mohamed N.M. Osman, ed., Pathways to Contemporary Islam: New Trends in Critical Engagement, pp. 99-
    123. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  • 2019  “Muslims, Catholics, and the Secular State: Alt-Right Populism and the Politics of Citizen Recognition in France.” American Journal of Islamic Social Science 36:3 (July), 1-22.


  • CAS AN 101 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
  • CAS AN 290 Children and Culture
  • CAS AN 319/719 Muslim Cultures and Politics
  • CAS AN 563 Religion and Politics across Cultures (co-listed with IR 563)
  • CAS AN 318/718 Southeast Asia: Tradition and Modernity
  • CAS AN 701 Anthropology of Morality: Biological, Psychological, and Sociocultural Foundations
  • CAS AN 704 Proseminar: Contemporary Anthropological Theory