William “Bill” Arens: August 31, 1940 - August 6, 2019

Cultural Anthropologist; Authority on Cannibalism; Fulbright Senior Scholar and U.N. consultant

Cultural anthropologist and Stony Brook University Professor William “Bill” Arens, PhD, passed away on August 6, 2019 after suffering from a form of Parkinson's Disease.

Professor Arens joined Stony Brook University in 1970 in the Department of Anthropology, where he remained a faculty member until his retirement in 2016, when he became Dean Emeritus. In the late 1980s, he became Chair of the department, a position he held for more than a decade. During his tenure, Professor Arens recruited several esteemed faculty members who went on to become acclaimed scholars, including Professors Patricia Wright, John Shea, and Curtis Marean.

Over the years, Professor Arens served in many administrative positions, including as head of Stony Brook University’s first residential college, Langmuir. He later became Associate Dean of the Graduate School, ultimately taking responsibility for International Academic Programs (IAP), which, at the time, reported to the Graduate School. IAP later became a separate unit, and Professor Arens became Stony Brook’s first Vice Provost for Global Affairs.

Outside of the University, Professor Arens achieved celebrity as an authority on cannibalism. His originality in this field lay in his questioning the reliability of virtually all the countless reports of its occurrence as a regular, accepted social practice, from the time of the so-called “Peking Man” to the present. Professor Aren’s analysis appeared in his widely published book, The Man-Eating Myth, and generated tremendous interest both within and outside cultural anthropological circles – he was invited by the BBC to make a film based on his book. His work made the identification of cannibalism in the archaeological record a much more exacting task.

Throughout his career, Professor Arens had a long and varied relationship with the country of Tanzania, in particular, the town of Mto wa Mbu. His field research was there for his PhD from the University of Virginia and resulted in his book, On the Frontier of Change, Mto Wa Mbu, Tanzania. In the 1980s, Professor Arens returned as both a Fulbright senior scholar and U.N. consultant. Starting in 1998, he embarked on a 15-year effort to introduce students to the language and culture of Tanzania via a popular study abroad program.

Professor Arens is survived by his wife, Diane Antos Arens; his son, Geoff Arens and daughter-in-law, Trish Peifer-Arens; his grandson, Bayley; and his granddaughter, Sophie.


To cite this article:

STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY. 2019 'William “Bill” Arens: August 31, 1940 - August 6, 2019'. Obituaries. Royal Anthropological Institute, August 2019. (available on-line: https://therai.org.uk/archives-and-manuscripts/obituaries/william-arens)