An Invitation to Laughter A Lebanese Anthropologist in the Arab World
by Fuad I. Khuri, edited by Sonia Jalbout Khuri, foreword by Richard Antoun
University of Chicago Press, 2007
Cloth: 978-0-226-43476-6 | Paper: 978-0-226-43478-0 | Electronic: 978-0-226-43475-9
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226434759.001.0001


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.


Fuad I. Khuri (1935–2003) was professor of anthropology at the American University of Beirut from 1964 to 1987. Khuri held a series of visiting professorships at the London School of Economics, University of Manchester, University of Chicago, and University of Oregon. Among his many books are From Village to Suburb, Tribe and State in Bahrain,Imams and Emirs and, most recently, Being a Druze. Sonia Jalbout Khuri has taught mathematics education in Lebanon and the United Kingdom. She also worked as a research assistant and editor with her late husband, Fuad I. Khuri.


"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

"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

"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



Prologue: The man himself

Note on Arabic words

Introduction: Why “ laughter”?

1. Exploring origins

2. Studying anthropology in Oregon

3. Being Lebanese

4. Religious syncretism

5. Lebanese traders inWest Africa

6. Change as faith

7. Teaching in Beirut

8. Establishing an Arab association for the social sciences

9. The exotic in the suburbs of Beirut

10. Alumni and ulama in Bahrain

11. Open secrets

12. Table manners in Yemen

13. The official policy toward emigration in Lebanon

14. The Arab rich

15. Who wants to be a zaim?

16. Living in Great Britain

List of Research Projects

List of Publications