William S. Simmons Professor of Anthropology

William Simmons graduated from Brown University in Human Biology in 1960, and earned his Ph.D. in Anthropology at Harvard University in 1967. From 1967 till 1998 he was a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, where he was Department Chair, Director of the Center for the Teaching and Study of American Cultures, and Dean of the Division of Social Sciences. In 1998 he moved to Brown University as Executive Vice President and Provost, and is currently Chair of Anthropology. He is currently Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Providence Public Library.

Brown Affiliations

Research Areas

research overview

William Simmons studies social/cultural anthropology, religion, myth, and ritual – focusing on West Africa and Native America. He is also interested in American cultural pluralism and the transformations of contemporary American research universities.

research statement

1. Three books and numerous articles and chapters on Native American religion in the historic period. These include studies of mortuary ritual, religious conversion, and the persistence of traditional folkloric traditions (myths and legends) into the present day. I have done extensive field research among the Native peoples of southern New England (Narragansett, Pequot, Mohegan, Massachusett, and Wampanoag – and among the Northern Maidu of Plumas and Lassen Counties in northern California). This work also includes collaborative research with most of these groups on topics related to petitions for federal recognition.

2. I have done 15 months of field research among the Badyaranke of Senegal (leading to one book and several articles on traditional religion, witchcraft, and conversion to Islam).

3. For the last three years, I have been studying the changing character of American research universities from an anthropological and multidisciplinary viewpoint. My goal is to write a series of essays on how changes in academic values, governance, community, funding, curriculum, and rapports with the wider world are interconnected.

funded research