Anthropology Professor Dru Gladney, a leading expert on the peoples and cultures along the past and present Silk Road, passed away yesterday suddenly and unexpectedly. He was 65 years old.
Gladney was a sought after and widely quoted academic voice on China’s Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, appearing in media outlets from The New York Times to CNN, and in scholarly forums around the globe. A Fulbright Research Scholar to China and Turkey, Gladney conducted field research in Western China, Central Asia, and Turkey for decades.
He was in the Xinjiang province of China bordering Afghanistan at the time of the 9/11 terror attacks, and he later testified before a congressional subcommittee in response to the detention of a group of Uyghurs at Guantanamo Bay.
His books included Dislocating China: Muslims, Minorities, and Other Subaltern Subjects and Ethnic Identity in China: The Making of a Muslim Minority. He contributed to 2004’s Xinjiang: China's Muslim Borderland, which Gladney and other scholars reported led them to be barred from travel to China for a time. He was later able to return, but not to the Western regions where he had long conducted his research. Gladney, however, continued his scholarship on the new Silk Road, as China reached westward to Central Asia and Europe for markets and resources.
“It's not always been a peaceful Silk Road,” Gladney said in a 2020 episode of the Pomona College Sagecast. “There's been a lot of speed bumps along the way. But I think by and large, my view is that it’s a great metaphor for the need to communicate, to keep dialogue open, to do exchange, to learn about each other. And where I learned most about the peoples on the Silk Road were in the marketplaces and the restaurants, where you exchanged goods and commodities and ideas.”
Born and raised in the city of Pomona, Gladney at first had plans to become a social worker or Christian missionary but in time found his intellectual and religious interests taking him from Hong Kong to Istanbul to Honolulu and eventually back the Southern California region where he spent his childhood. In his Sagecast interview, Gladney recounted how his own spiritual journey sparked a fascination “with how religion could transform someone's life, as it had transformed mine.”
Gladney earned his B.A. in philosophy and religious studies from Westmont College, followed by M.A.s in theology and cross-cultural studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He then went on to University of Washington, where he earned an M.A. in anthropology and a Ph.D. in social anthropology.
Early in his career, he held faculty or post-doctoral positions at Harvard University; University of Southern California; Kings College, Cambridge; and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. He was on the faculty of University of Hawaii at Manoa for more than a decade before arriving at Pomona in 2006. At Pomona, he served stints as president of the Pacific Basin Institute and as chair of the Anthropology Department.
“He will be remembered for how he always looked for occasions to bring people together, break bread and tell stories,” said Associate Professor Joanne Nucho, current chair of the Anthropology Department.
Nucho also noted that Gladney was a frequent commentator for national news outlets such as NPR for his research and expertise on China. “I recall many occasions when he did not announce his interviews in advance, but I just happened to turn on the radio and hear his voice,” Nucho said. “We all mourn his passing and send our deepest condolences to his family.”