Anthropology professor passes away

Tayler Critchlow

Georgia Southern University anthropology department mourns the loss of one of its longtime professors.

Robert Shanafelt, Ph.D., passed away on March 26 after losing a fight against non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

“He was a masterful teacher; he was a brilliant scholar, and every bit as good and amazing of a human being as he was either of those things,” Tim Prizer, former student and friend of Shanafelt, said.

Prizer attended Georgia Southern before Shanafelt arrived and was told that Shanafelt was a folklorist, which was the area of anthropology that Prizer was interested in. When Shanafelt arrived Prizer approached him about the subject, spurring Shanafelt to create the Introduction to Folklore class, Prizer said.

“My passion for learning and academia really took off under Dr. Shanafelt. That intro to folklore class was huge in my academic development. I can remember scribbling down notes and almost trying to write down verbatim what he was saying in class because I was so fascinated by it,” Prizer said.

“I know he was very caring towards his students, he really cared about students, a very caring person,” Barbara Hendry, Ph.D., associate professor of anthropology, said

Hendry and Shanafelt attended graduate school together at the University of Florida before becoming reacquainted at GSU as colleagues. Shanafelt even helped Hendry with some of her dissertation, Hendry said.

“He [Shanafelt] wanted me to have a little more theoretical background [in folklore], so he devised an independent reading class for me on folklore theory and that was the class where I was the only one who took it and there was no set time that the class was offered. I just met with him once a week to discuss the readings,” Prizer said.

Shanafelt was an expert on Africa, especially on Lesotho where he was placed during his time in the Peace Corps and then where he conducted his dissertation research. He knew how to speak one of the African click languages, Hendry said.

Shanafelt had a witty, dry sense of humor that will be missed, Hendry said.

“Some of my fondest memories were some of the faculty meetings we would have when we would be bringing up some various problems and issues and Bob would always interject some dry, humorous remark that would really lighten us all up,” Hendry said.

Shanafelt was a consummate anthropologist, loved research, loved teaching, was a true intellectual and was always there to help with administrative tasks, Hendry said.

Soft-spoken, mild mannered, gentle, warm and he smiled and laughed a lot. Shanafelt could make complex ideas simple to understand for students and could carry on engaging conversations with undergraduate students, Prizer said.

“We are all still kind of in shock about this. It is just difficult to imagine our program without Bob, he was such an integral part of it,” Hendry said.

“He was very inspirational to me, as I look back now he was the first professor to treat me more as a colleague then a student,” Prizer said.

Shanafelt was very influential and a positive influence on Prizer both as a person and in terms of what he wanted to do and has done academically, Prizer said.

Shanafelt earned his Ph.D. in anthropology in 1989 from the University of Florida with his dissertation entitled: Talking Peace, Living Conflict: The Mental and the Material on the Borders of the Apartheid.

He worked as the interim assistant director for the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida, was a folklorist for the Florida Department of State under the Division of Historical Resources in the Bureau of Florida Folklife Programs before arriving at GSU in 2002.

At GSU, Shanafelt taught Introduction to Anthropology, Biological Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Folklife and Religion and Cultures of Africa as well as a graduate seminar in Social Theory.

“He [Shanafelt] wrote his own textbook for his students which is really creative and innovative,” Hendry said. He did it because the textbook used for the Introduction to Anthropology class did not satisfy his needs.

There will be a memorial service held on campus but the date has not yet been set.