Loyola University Chicago

Department of Anthropology

Dr. Paul S. Breidenbach

PAUL S. BREIDENBACH, 75, passed from this life on July 29, 2014 in Evanston, Illinois.  He was born in 1939 in Webster Groves, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb.  Paul is remembered as a brilliant and creative teacher, symbolic anthropologist, Africanist, dobro musician and Associate Professor of Anthropology at Loyola University Chicago. 

Following high school Paul joined the Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious order devoted to the poor and education.  After earning his BA at St. Mary’s College, he began his career by teaching history in Chicago high schools.  In 1969 he left the Christian Brothers to study anthropology at Northwestern University earning his Master’s degree (1969) and his Doctorate (1973) under the mentorship of Johannes Fabian, Paul Bohannon and Oswald Werner. 

In 1972 Paul joined the faculty of Loyola University Chicago, where he remained until his retirement in 2009.  Paul’s fieldwork was among a Christian Healing Movement in Ghana, where he later returned to make an ethnographic film.  He published in various journals including, The Journal of the International African Institute; Journal of Religion in Africa; Listening: Journal of Religion and Culture; African Arts; and International Journal of African Historical Studies. His work also appears in a special issue of Journal of Social Research on Religious Movements as Discourse (edited by Johannes Fabian) and in The New Religions of Africa (edited by Benetta Jules-Rossette).  Paul subsequently developed interests in media and culture, and turned his ethnographic expertise to video games, publishing with colleagues Talmadge Wright and Eric Boria in Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research.

Paul was a charismatic teacher and inspiring mentor: he entranced generations of students with his dramatic, creative lectures and his enthusiasm for anthropology.  Especially memorable were his first sessions of Introduction to Cultural Anthropology: he violated cultural norms by entering class wearing his shoe on his head and ending class by inviting students to lunch at the local “Kentucky Fried Dog.” He also taught graduate and upper division classes on specialized topics, including Visual Representations of Culture and History of Anthropological Thought (where he captivated students with energetic impersonations of Franz Boas as anthropology’s “gladiator” against scientific racism). Through his classes he recruited majors and left indelible marks on many lives. 

Paul was also a gifted musician and avid international traveler, making yearly pilgrimages to Europe for concerts and frequent trips to Asia. In his youth he played dobro in the band Ozark Mountain Boys, with Doug Dillard and other celebrated bluegrass musicians. He also recorded albums with noted folk and bluegrass performers including Anne Hills and John Hartford. He was well known in the Chicago music scene, playing in Chicago clubs with local bands, such as Hot Tamales and Brushfire. (See him singing and playing dobro here). Paul’s additional passions included Baroque music (especially Handel’s operas), Pre-Raphaelite painting, auctions, and his Roger’s Park neighborhood coffee house.

Paul is survived by his partner, Sharon Pierson, her children, John and Alisa, and, two brothers, Walter and Bob.  

(Kathleen M. Adams and Christine Fry)