John L. Jackson, Jr.

John L. Jackson, Jr. is Penn Provost and the Richard Perry University Professor in the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Arts and Sciences.  Jackson began his tenure as Penn's 31st Provost on June 1, 2023. A pioneering scholar of urban ethnography, visual culture, and the anthropology of race, he is the only professor in Penn history to serve as Dean of two Penn Schools – the Annenberg School for Communication (2019-2023) and the School of Social Policy and Practice (2014-2018) – and was appointed in 2006 as the first Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professor.

Communication, Anthropology & Africana Studies

john jackson

A renowned cultural anthropologist, John L. Jackson, Jr. has spent the last 20 years re-shaping and modernizing his discipline for the Internet Age. His research defies traditional categories, incorporating multiple fields in each inquiry: technology and religious studies; culture and economics; anthropology and new media; Africana studies and linguistics. As a result, he often links academic disciplines that have rarely intersected before — in this way, establishing models for new standards of scholarship.

For the last decade, Jackson has focused his research on the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, a spiritual group of African-American ex-pats who live in Israel, practice veganism, and strive for eternal life. In his fourth book, Thin Description: Ethnography and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem (2013), Jackson dives into the group’s inner-workings, supplementing traditional fieldwork with contemporary mass and social media research. The book also kick-starts a conversation about what ethnography means in the 21st century.

Drawn to the power of storytelling through image and sound, Jackson is leading efforts to bring film into academia. He’s produced numerous visual anthropologies: feature-length documentaries, fictional movies and short films that have won prestigious awards and screened around the world. He also co-founded CAMRA — an interdisciplinary group of researchers and educators at Penn who, like Jackson, believe that film can present scholarship just as effectively as papers or books.

Whether he’s presenting a lecture on his latest research, teaching a race studies class, or blogging for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jackson’s voice can be heard all over Penn and well beyond. His candor, wit, and accessibility have made him a popular mentor for the University’s undergraduates and Ph.D. students alike, and in 2008 he received the School of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Award for Innovation and Teaching. 

Research Interests (Selected)

  • Ethnographic film and visual studies
  • Race theory
  • Globalization, transnationalism, and diaspora
  • Media anthropology
  • Urban studies
  • Cultural studies
  • Performance theory
  • Popular culture


Impolite Conversations: On Race, Politics, Sex, Money, and Religion, 2014 (with Cora Daniels)

Thin Description: Ethnography and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, 2013

Racial Paraonia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness, 2008

Real Black: Adventures in Racial Sincerity, 2005

Harlemworld: Doing Race and Class in Contemporary Black America, 2001


Academic Writings (Selected)

“An Americanist Anthropologist in Israel: Notes from an Africanized Israel,” accepted for publication in Ethnographic Encounters in Israel, edited by Fran Markowitz, Indiana University Press (forthcoming) 

Ethnography Is, Ethnography Ain’t,” Cultural Anthropology 27(3): 480-497.

“Return of the Reflexed: Filmmaking and the Aesthetics of Social Science,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 35(4): 637-642 (2012).

For a complete list of Jackson's writings, view his CV

Features & Interviews (Selected)

"Penn Futures Project: Investing in Children and Communities," Penn News, February 17, 2015

"John L. Jackson, Jr. Named Dean of the School of Social Policy & Practice at Penn," Penn News, March 19, 2014

"John Jackson, Ethnography, and the Hebrew Israelites," Penn Gazette, February 26, 2014

"PIK Professor Examines African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem," Penn Current, November 14, 2013

"Senior Advisor for Diversity: John Jackson,The Almanac, January 10, 2012

"'Bad Friday' Film Chronicles Coral Gardens 'Incident,'Penn Current,  December 8, 2011


Editorials (Selected)

"In troubled world, social workers there to help,Philadelphia Inquirer, September 24, 2014

"How Politicians and Celebrities Helped Black Americans Build a Spiritual Home in Israel," Tablet: A New Read On Jewish Life, December 2, 2013

"Some of Your Best Friends are Racists," Philadelphia Inquirer, August 4, 2013


Video (Selected)

"Structural Racism and the Root Causes of Prejudice," Bahá'í Chair for World Peace Fall Symposium, November 4, 2014

"John L. Jackson, Jr., 'Racial Paranoia,'Book TV, January 9, 2013

"Book Discussion on 'Racial Paranoia,'C-Span, December 4, 2012

"John L. Jackson, Jr,The Agenda with Steve Paikin, February 23, 2011

"What Does Ethnographer and Filmmaker John L. Jackson, Jr. Find Interesting?The Annenberg School for Communication, June 15, 2010

"John L. Jackson, Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor," University of Pennsylvania, October 30, 2008


Blogs (Collected)

From the Annals of Anthroman (2008 - 2011)

Brainstom: Ideas and CultureThe Chronicle of Higher Education (2008 - 2010)

Richard C. Perry


“I am delighted to support the President's ambitious plans for Penn. By attracting world-class faculty and building on Penn's interdisciplinary strength, this program will serve as a catalyst for transforming the University.”  

- Richard Perry

Richard Perry, W'77, gave the inaugural gift in support of the Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) initiative, a cornerstone of President Amy Gutmann’s vision for propelling Penn from excellence to eminence. His 2005 commitment endowed four Richard Perry University Professorships. Richard Perry is a member of the University of Pennsylvania Board of Trustees.

  • Ph.D., Columbia University (Anthropology)
  • M.Phil., Columbia University (Anthropology)
  • M.A., Columbia University (Anthropology)
  • B.A., Howard University (Communication)


Administrative Posts
  • Provost
  • Dean, Annenberg School for Communication (2018-2023)
  • Dean, School of Social Policy and Practice (2014-2018)
  • Senior Advisor to the Provost for Diversity (2012 - 2014)
  • Associate Dean of Administration, Annenberg School (2013-2014)
  • Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Annenberg School (2007 - 2013)

University Service

Additional Penn Profiles


Office of the Provost
1 College Hall, Room 122
Philadelphia, PA 19104
215.898.7227 (O)