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An Invitation to Laughter

A Lebanese Anthropologist in the Arab World

Edited by Sonia Jalbout Khuri
With a Foreword by Richard Antoun

For the late Fuad I. Khuri, a distinguished career as an anthropologist began not because of typical concerns like accessibility, money, or status, but because the very idea of an occupation that baffled his countrymen made them—and him—laugh. “When I tell them that ‘anthropology’ is my profession . . . they think I am either speaking a strange language or referring to a new medicine.” This profound appreciation for humor, especially in the contradictions inherent in the study of cultures, is a distinctive theme of An Invitation to Laughter, Khuri’s astute memoir of life as an anthropologist in the Middle East.

A Christian Lebanese, Khuri offers up in this unusual autobiography both an insider’s and an outsider’s perspective on life in Lebanon, elsewhere in the Middle East, and in West Africa. Khuri entertains and informs with clever insights into such issues as the mentality of Arabs toward women, eating habits of the Arab world, the impact of Islam on West Africa, and the extravagant lifestyles of wealthy Arabs, and even offers a vision for a type of democracy that could succeed in the Middle East. In his life and work, as these astonishing essays make evident, Khuri demonstrated how the discipline of anthropology continues to make a difference in bridging dangerous divides.


"Winning. . . . The title refers to Khuri’s disarming use of humor to recount his frustrating yet rewarding experiences working in West Africa, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen. The reader is also treated to charming observations of life in Oregon, where he pursued graduate studies, and England, where he settled in 1985."

St. Petersburg Times

"Fuad Khuri was one of the most thoughtful and insightful anthropologists working on the Middle East. His published work always exhibited two very special qualities: he chose bold issues and he had an extraordinary eye for the small yet revealing detail. No one should be surprised that An Invitation to Laughter captures and extends those traits so well."

Lawrence Rosen, Princeton University

“Fuad Khuri’s An Invitation to Laughter is a riveting account of life as a Christian Lebanese anthropologist in the Middle East. In consistently engaging and lively prose, Khuri depicts his experiences along the sectarian divide in Lebanon, elsewhere in the Middle East, and in West Africa with humor, compassion, and insight. This unique and timely book is destined to be a must-read for scholars of the Middle East, students of the social sciences, or anyone seeking an understanding of how anthropology continues to make a difference by bridging dangerous divides.”

Dale Eickelman, Ralph and Richard Lazarus Professor of Anthropology and Human Relations, Dartmouth College

"A professional autobiography, yet it is also a superb prologue to the structure of interaction in the Arab world, as well as a salient introduction to anthropological research."

American University of Beirut Bulletin

"A book that every student of the Middle East and anthropology at large should read: a witty, well-written account of a life full of anthroplogical adventure."

Susanne Dahlgren | Suomen Anthropology

Table of Contents

Foreword, by Richard Antoun
Prologue: The man himself, by Sonia Jalbout Khuri
Note on Arabic words

Introduction            Why “laughter”?
Chapter 1               Exploring origins: The choice of anthropology
Chapter 2               Studying anthropology in Oregon: “How wonderful!”
Chapter 3               Being Lebanese: A nationality or a profession?
Chapter 4               Religious syncretism: “I offer sacrifices to my ancestors on Friday because I am a Muslim”
Chapter 5               Lebanese traders in West Africa: Always ending the day in losses
Chapter 6               Change as faith: The restless Americans
Chapter 7               Teaching in Beirut: “Sir, keep this information to yourself”
Chapter 8               Establishing an Arab association for the social sciences: The tyranny of consensus
Chapter 9               The exotic in the suburbs of Beirut: “It is written”
Chapter 10             Alumni and ‘ulama in Bahrain: “We all seek knowledge”
Chapter 11             Open secrets: Discussable but not publishable
Chapter 12             Table manners in Yemen: Eat! Do not talk!
Chapter 13             The official policy toward emigration in Lebanon: “We eat bread, not potatoes”
Chapter 14             The Arab rich: “An ugly horse that wins the race is praised for its good looks”
Chapter 15             Who wants to be a za‘im? The agony of fame
Chapter 16             Living in Great Britain: “The best in the world”
Appendix 1            List of Research Projects
Appendix 2            List of Publications

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