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John Tofik Karam

Profile picture for John Tofik Karam

Contact Information

4110 Foreign Languages Building
707 S. Mathews Avenue, MC-176
Urbana, IL 61801-3674



I was born and raised in upstate New York, hearing stories my grandmother told of her birthplace, a town she called “trinta e três,” literally thirty-three. The name derived from the town’s location at the thirty-third kilometer of the Madeira-Mamoré railroad between Porto Velho and Guajará-Mirim, near Brazil’s border with Bolívia. Her Lebanese mother and father had migrated separately to Providence in the U.S., met and married there, and moved to Brazil. My grandmother remembered the mango tree in the backyard of her family’s home and a milking cow provisioned by a “coronel” who her parents had chosen as her godfather. With less than ten years of age, she was sent to Lebanon to be raised. Upon her arrival in the port of Beirut, she recalled the almost suffocating embrace of an old woman, probably her own grandmother, who spoke a language she did not understand. She later married in Lebanon and moved with her husband to upstate New York, where she gave birth to three children, and eventually helped to raise six grandchildren, of which I am one. I began traveling to Brazil as a teenager, and followed an academic track because it brought me there, again and again.

Research Interests

Area and Ethnic Studies, Diaspora and Transnational Studies

Research Description

John Tofik Karam contributes to the transnational turn in area and ethnic studies. His first book, Another Arabesque: Syrian-Lebanese Ethnicity in Neoliberal Brazil, won awards from the Arab American National Museum and the Brazilian Studies Association. It was translated by the Editora Martins Fontes into Portuguese and by the Centre for Arab Unity Studies into Arabic. With María del Mar Logroño Narbona and Paulo G. Pinto, Karam coedited the volume, Crescent over Another Horizon: Islam in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino U.S.A.. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, his current book project is titled, “Manifold Destiny: Arabs at an American Crossroads of Exceptional Rule.” With Akram Khater and Andrew Arsan, he co-founded the peer-reviewed Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies, Published in the journal's inaugural issue, his article, “The Lebanese Diaspora at the Tri-Border and the Redrawing of South American Geopolitics, 1950-1992,” was awarded the best article prize by the Brazil Section of the Latin American Studies Association. In 2017, he was named Conrad Humanities Scholar. In 2019-20, he was awarded a Fulbright award to collaborate with Professor Antonio Carlos Lessa at the Universidade de Brasília (UnB). Currently, he serves as Acting Director of the Lemann Center for Brazilian Studies of the University of Illinois.


Ph.D. in Anthropology, Syracuse University, 2004
M.A. in Anthropology, Syracuse University, 2000
B.A. in Anthropology, University of Rochester, 1996

Awards and Honors

Courses Taught

Redrawing Hemispheric Borders
Introduction to Latin America
Writing Migration into Latin America and the Caribbean
Brazil in Hemispheric Context
Culture and Power in Brazil
The Telenovela
Brazil as Global Power
Contemporary Brazil

Additional Campus Affiliations

Professor, Spanish and Portuguese
Professor, Asian American Studies
Professor, Lemann Center for Brazilian Studies
Professor, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Intellectual Property

Book Contributions

  • "Al-tijara al-kharijiyah: dawr al-mujtam'a al-lubnānī." al-Barāzīl – Lubnān: Turath wa Mustaqbal. . Comp. Ligia Maria Scherer, Felipe H. Goulart, and Pedro A. Veloso. Brasília: Ministério das Relações Exteriores/FUNAG, 2018.
  • "Comércio Exterior: Papel da Comunidade Libanesa." Brasil e Líbano: Legado e Futuro . . Comp. Ligia M. Scherer, Felipe H. Goulart, and Pedro A. Veloso . Brasília: Ministério das Relações Exteriores/FUNAG, 2017.
  • "Beside Bandung: Historicizing Brazil in the América do Sul-Países Árabes Summit." Latin America and the Middle East. . Comp. Roberto Khatlab, Hoda Nehmé, and Élodie Brun. Kaslik: USEK Press, 2015.
  • "A pista e a pena da diáspora palestina: Mapeando a América do Sul no conflito israelo-árabe, 1967-1972." Entre o Velho e o Novo Mundo: A diáspora palestina desde o Oriente Médio à América Latina. . Comp. Leonardo Schiocchet. Lisboa: Chiado Editora, 2015.
  • "Latino America in the Umma / the Umma in Latino America." Crescent over Another Horizon: Islam in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino U.S.A.. . . Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015.
  • "African Rebellion and Refuge on the Edge of Empire." Crescent over Another Horizon: Islam in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino U.S.A.. . . Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015.


  • "The Politics of Anti-Zionism and Racial Democracy in Homeland Tourism." The Middle East and Brazil: Perspectives on the New Global South. . Comp. Paul Amar. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.
  • "Turcos in the Mix: Corrupting Arabs in Brazil’s Racial Democracy." Between the Middle East and the Americas: The Cultural Politics of Diaspora. . Comp. Evelyn AlSultany and Ella Shohat. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013.
  • "Muslim Histories in Latin America and the Caribbean." An Introduction to Islam in the 21st Century. . Comp. Aminah McCloud and Scott HIbbard. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.
  • "Atravessando as Américas: A ‘guerra ao terror,’ os árabes e as mobilizações transfronteiriças desde Foz do Iguaçu e Ciudad del Este." A Tríplice Fronteira: espaços nacionais e dinâmicas locais. . Comp. Lorenzo Macagno, Silvia Montenegro, and Verónica Giménez Béliveau. Curitiba: Universidade Federal do Paraná, 2011.
  • "Atravesando las Américas: la guerra contra el terror, los árabes y las movilizaciones transfronterizas en Foz de Iguazu y Ciudad del Este." La Triple Frontera: dinámicas culturales y procesos transnacionales. . Comp. Verónica Giménez Béliveau and Silvia Montenegro. Buenos Aires: Espacio Editorial, 2010.
  • "Margins of Memory on the Rua 25 de Marco: Constructing the Syrian-Lebanese Past in São Paulo, Brazil." Arabs in the Americas: Interdisciplinary Essays on the Arab Diaspora. . Comp. Darcy Zabel. New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 2006.

Short Stories

  • Hatoum, Milton. "Mashriq & Mahjar." Brazilian Arabesques. Trans. John T. Karam. Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies, 2013.

Journal Articles

  • "I, Too, Am the Americas: Arabs in the Redrawing of Area and Ethnic Studies." Journal of American Ethnic History 37.3 (2018):
  • "Philip Hitti, Brazil, and the Diasporic Histories of Area Studies.” ." International Journal of Middle East Studies 46.3 (2014):
  • "On the Trail and Trial of a Palestinian Diaspora: Mapping South America in the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1967-1972." Journal of Latin American Studies 45.4 (2013):
  • "The Lebanese Diaspora at the Tri-Border and the Redrawing of South American Geopolitics, 1950-1992." Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies 1.1 (2013):
  • "Crossing the Americas: The U.S. ‘War on Terror’ and Arab Cross-Border Mobilizations in a South American Frontier Region." Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 31.2 (2011):
  • "Anti-Semitism from the Standpoint of its Arab Victims in a South American Frontier Zone." Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies 6.2 (2011):
  • "Historias musulmanas en América Latina y el Caribe." Istor: Revista de Historia Internacional 12.45 (2011):
  • "Belly Dancing and the (En)Gendering of Ethnic Sexuality in the ‘Mixed’ Brazilian Nation." Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 6.2 (2010):
  • "A Cultural Politics of Entrepreneurship in Nation-Making: Phoenicians, Turks, and the Arab Commercial Essence in Brazil." The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 9.2 (2004):
  • "Intensified Eth(n)ics: Arab Brazilians and the ‘Imagined State’ in Neoliberal São Paulo." PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 26.1 (2003):

Magazine Articles

  • "Fios árabes, tecido brasileiro: desde o início do século XX, sírios, libaneses e palestinos exercem sua astúcia comercial nos quatro cantos do País." Revista de História da Biblioteca Nacional. 1 Jun. 2009.

Highlighted Publications

Logroño Narbona, M. D. M., Pinto, P. G., & Karam, J. T. (Eds.) (2015). Crescent over Another Horizon: Islam in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA. University of Texas Press.

Karam, M. T. (2007). Another Arabesque: Syrian-Lebanese Ethnicity in Neoliberal Brazil . Temple University Press.

View all publications on Illinois Experts

Recent Publications

Karam, J. T. (2023). JOHN TOFIK KARAM UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, URBANA-CHAMPAIGN. Transmodernity, 11(1), 176-179.

Karam, J. T. (2023). Muslim Arab Beneficence at a Hemispheric Crossroads of Exceptional Rule. Journal of Muslim Philanthropy and Civil Society, 7(2), 51-69.

Karam, J. T. (2023). O lobby árabe, a bancada BBB e o governo Bolsonaro na ‘máquina anti-política’. Brasiliana: Journal for Brazilian Studies, 12(1).

Karam, J. T. (2022). Arab Americana: Redrawing “Hemispheric Partitions”: REDRAWING “HEMISPHERIC PARTITIONS”. In A. E. Feldmann, X. Bada, J. Durand, & S. Schütze (Eds.), The Routledge History of Modern Latin American Migration (pp. 130-143). (Routledge Histories). Routledge.

Karam, J. T. (2022). Introduction: The Politics of Privilege. In L. Cainkar, P. Homsi Vinson, & A. Jarmakani (Eds.), Sajjilu Arab American: A Reader in SWANA Studies (pp. 274-282). (Critical Arab American Studies). Syracuse University Press.

View all publications on Illinois Experts