Allen Roberts

Allen Roberts

Distinguished Professor Emeritus


Distinguished Professor Emeritus



AL Roberts joined the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures in 1999 and retired in 2021. He was also an affiliated professor of French and Francophone Studies, director of the UCLA African Studies Center (2001-2006), chair of the African Studies MA program (2011-2014), and served on the faculty boards of the Center for the Study of Religion and the Islamic Studies Program. His formal training is in socio-cultural Anthropology (PhD 1980, University of Chicago) and his principal focus has been arts and humanities of sub-Saharan Africa. He has conducted research in 35 countries with nearly fifteen years of residence in rural Africa, and especially in the republics of Bénin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo-Kinshasa, and Mali. AL conducted research, wrote books and articles, co-curated museum exhibitions, and often co-taught with his late spouse, WACD Professor Mary “Polly” Nooter Roberts (d.2018).


Arts and humanities of sub-Saharan Africa and its diasporas, mystical Islam in Senegal, ritual processes, local-level politics, Congolese and Senegalese historical ethnographies.


Recent books include Devotional Spaces of a Global Saint: Shirdi Sai Baba’s Presence (2022, co-edited with Smriti Srinivas and Neelima Jeychandran and dedicated to the memory of Polly Roberts); Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths (2019, lead editor and a principal author); A Dance of Assassins: Performing Early Colonial Hegemony in the Congo (2013); and A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal (2003, co-authored with Polly Roberts).

Current research and writing concern Muslim arts and architectures of Senegal; the “brainsmithing” of contemporary and earlier African artists; and contrastive cultural ecologies of colonized Congolese and their Belgian colonizers.

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