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Merle L Bowen

Profile picture for Merle L Bowen

Contact Information

Department of African American Studies
1201 W. Nevada, MC/143
Urbana, IL 61801


My intellectual journey in African and related studies began on the African continent, and expanded out from there to other parts of the black world, especially the Americas. Southern Africa generally, and Mozambique more particularly, were the site of my first major scholarly engagement. My agrarian interests in southern Africa led to another line of inquiry, notably rural sociology and social movements in the African diaspora. My current research focuses on Brazil’s quilombos or African descended communities struggling for land and livelihood, and critically examines the national quilombo land movement that is fighting for black land rights. Brazil, home to the largest population of people of African descent outside of the African continent, is an ideal location to explore the impact of land reform on class, race, and gender in rural settings.

Research Interests

Politics in Africa and the African Diaspora
Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in Africa/African Diaspora
Land, Labor, and Afro-Brazilian Rural Communities
Agrarian and Rural Issues
Afro-descendant Social Movements in the Americas

Research Description

I am currently completing a book manuscript, For Land and Liberty: Black Struggles in Rural Brazil, an ethnographic study of Afro-Brazilian quilombo (maroon-descended) communities and their struggles for land rights, land reform, and livelihood. My work examines how race and ethnicity have become significant in new ways in twenty-first century Brazil and crucial to the resurgence of rural movements, rural mobilization, and rural resistance. While class-based land movements remain significant ethno-racial movements, such as the quilombo  movement, have mobilized communities and organized across regional and urban-rural divides.


M.A.A.S,, University of California
Ph.D., University of Toronto
B.A. with honors, University of Toronto


Principal Investigator, Department of African American Studies, Mandela Washington Fellows, Civic Leadership Institute, Department of State/IREX (FY16-YALI-CL-Illinois-01), 2016, $149,834
Principal Investigator, Center for African Studies, National Resource Center ($980,000/PO15A140048) and Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship ($1,822,500/PO15B140048) Title VI Grants, U.S. Department of Education, 2014-18, $2,802,500
Principal Investigator, “Who Owns Paradise? Afro-Brazilians and Ethno-Tourism in Brazil’s Quilombos,” Research Board (RB15124), 2015, $13,658 and International Research Travel Grant, $2500

Awards and Honors

Fellow, Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society, UI, 2004
Fellow, Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Program at Northwestern University, 2005
Fellow, Carolina Postdoctoral Program for Faculty Diversity, 1991-93
Fellow, Center for Advanced Study, UI, 1990
Fellow, Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African American Studies, 1987-88

Courses Taught

Pan Africansim in the Americas, Europe and Africa
Government and Politics in Africa
Introduction to the African Diaspora
Development of African Studies
Global Africa
Social Movements and Globalization in Africa, Asia and Latin America
Comparative Politics in Developing Countries

Additional Campus Affiliations

Professor, African American Studies
Professor, Political Science
Professor, Gender and Women's Studies
Professor, Women & Gender in Global Perspectives
Professor, Global Studies Programs and Courses
Professor, Lemann Center for Brazilian Studies
Professor, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Professor, Center for African Studies

Recent Publications

Bowen, M. L. (2021). For Land and Liberty: Black Struggles in Rural Brazil. (Cambridge Studies on the African Diaspora). Cambridge University Press.

Bowen, M. L. (2018). Quilombo Identity, Ethno-Commodification, and Tourism in Neoliberal Brazil. In R. K. Edozie, G. A. Chambers, & T. Hamilton-Wray (Eds.), New Frontiers in the Study of the Global African Diaspora: Between Uncharted Themes and Alternative Representations (pp. 197-212). (Ruth Simms Hamilton African Diaspora). Michigan State University Press.

Bowen, M. L., Mitchell, S. T., & Sullivan, L. (Eds.) (2017). Afro-Brazilian citizenship and the politics of history. African and Black Diaspora, 10(2).

Bowen, M. L. (2017). Who owns paradise? Afro-Brazilians and ethnic tourism in Brazil’s quilombos. African and Black Diaspora, 10(2), 179-202.

Bowen, M. L., & Tillman, A. S. (2015). Developing Culturally Responsive Surveys: Lessons in Development, Implementation, and Analysis From Brazil’s African Descent Communities. American Journal of Evaluation, 36(1), 25-41.

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