John M. Janzen

John Janzen
  • Professor Emeritus
  • Anthropology

Contact Info


J.M. Janzen is professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Kansas – Lawrence, where he concentrated on medical anthropology, history of anthropology, and African Studies.   John and his wife Reinhild live in South-Central Kansas overlooking the prairie, but fully connected to the world via high-speed internet. In retirement John divides his time between his desk and nearby Janzen Family Farms that raises old line Angus grass fed beef and organic mixed grain. 

During the Covid pandemic when zoom meetings and conferences became the norm, John participated in numerous conferences with African studies themes.  The most active of these, still ongoing, has been Kongo Academy founded and headed by Adrien Ngudiankama PhD, a Kansas post-doctoral fellow in 2000.  Kongo Academy features ongoing research in the Western Equatorial African region and its diaspora communities.  The monthly zoom sessions are regularly attended by twenty or so participants from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, the Republic of Congo, U.S., Canada, France, Belgium, Sweden, U.K., Brazil, the Caribbean. 


Health, healing, and related religious and societal issues in Central Africa have been the focus of my scholarly work over much of my career. Recent publications in this area have included: a book Health in a Fragile State: Science, Sorcery and Spirit in the Lower Congo (Wisconsin 2019), based on field research in early 2013 in Lower Congo as a Fulbright Senior Scholar, deals with the sustainability of public health and health care institutions in a failed state neoliberal “Healing Paradigms in Western Equatorial Africa,” in African Medical Pluralism (Indiana 2017), and “The Salience of the State in biomedicine: Congo and Uganda Cases Compared,” in The Work of Hospitals: Global Medicine in Local Cultures (Rutgers, 2022). Both books edited by William Olsen and Carolyn Sargent. Topics that have received prolonged attention include: The nature of, and relationship between, African healing and biomedicine (Quest for Therapy in Lower Zaire, 1978/ 1982), the perception of crises, historical trends in social formations, and organized political, economic , therapeutic and religious responses (Lemba 1982; Ngoma 1992); the nature of knowledge, problem solving, adaptation to environment ; long-term historical trends in these issues. Most of my research has been conducted in Kongo society of the Lower Congo, and its New World diaspora, although a few projects have taken me to the Great Lakes region, Southern Africa, East Africa, and the Sudan.

Other publications have included two further book chapters, both to appear as Springer Nature works. 

“Resource flows in DR Congo public health and healthcare in the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ch. 14 in Africa and the Formation of the New System of International Relations  Vol. II: Beyond Summit Diplomacy : Cooperation with Africa in the Post-Pandemic World, eds. A. Vasiliev, D. Degterev and T.M. Shaw.

“The Kongo Tradition of Renewal: Thoughts on Future Research,” In Kimbanguism 100 Years On: Interdisciplinary Essays on a Social-Cultural Movement. Edited by Adrien Ngudiankama.

Finally, I co-edited a collection of 25 biographical and autobiographical essays of Africanists—scholars, practitioners, activists—who had some connection to Mennonite service programs: Mennonites and Post-colonial African Studies (Routledge, 2021), eds. J.M.Janzen, H. Miller, J.C. Yoder.  


Research interests:

  • Health, healing, religion, Central African society
  • Biomedicine in Africa
  • Crises, trauma.


My teaching & advising has been shaped significantly by research interests and activities. The medical anthropological interest led to my creation and long-time teaching of the sequence ANTH 461/761, Introduction to Medical Anthropology, and ANTH 876 Advanced Medical Anthropology. With the arrival of a junior colleague in Africanist medical anthropology, Kathryn Rhine, I have ceded to her the introductory course and however else she wishes to define this field of significant interest among our graduate students. I have continued to work with my graduate advisees through the advanced medical anthropology seminar.

My African interests have inspired my teaching of ANTH 564 “Peoples of Africa” and ANTH 568 “Kongo-Transatlantic.” Both of these courses have dimensions that are amenable to work with museum collections. I have also frequently taught the core graduate course ANTH 701 “History of Anthropology”. Since becoming adviser to the anthropology track of the KU Museum Studies Program, in 2009, I revised an existing course into ANTH 699 “Anthropology in Museums,” as a course that meets the requirements of the Anthropology Track of the MUSE program. This course incorporates directly the African and Euro-American material and interpretive interests in my research.

Teaching at the University of Kansas is however now a distant memory.  I did attend the KASC Graduate Student Research symposium this spring (2023), and enjoyed seeing on-going student scholarship in many fields.  I congratulate the hard-working and creative KASC staff for continuing Title VI national center status.   Students whom I taught years ago are now teachers and scholars. I am happy to visit with, exchange mail, or simply follow their careers. 

Teaching interests:

  • Medical anthropology
  • History of anthropology
  • Anthropology in museums
  • Kongo Transatlantic
  • Peoples of Africa