Ralph Braibanti, Expert on Islamic-Western Relations, Dies

Political scientist helped make Duke a leader in the field

Ralph J. Braibanti, James B. Duke professor emeritus of political science at DukeUniversity and a pioneer in academic studies of the contemporary Islamic world, died November 24, 2005, in Durham, North Carolina. He was 85.

Dr. Braibanti grew up in Danbury, Connecticut, the grandson of Italian and Polish immigrants who moved to that city at the turn of the century to find work as hatters. His father managed hat factories in nearby Bethel and Norwalk between the end of World War II and the collapse of Danbury's hat industry in the 1960s.

Braibanti began his career in teaching and research in 1947 at SyracuseUniversity. Two years later, he accepted an appointment at KenyonCollege, where he remained until moving to DukeUniversity in 1953. His teaching and extensive research in Islamic-Western relations flourished at Duke, beginning with his widely praised Pakistan studies in 1957. He received the university's highest and most respected academic honor, a James B. Duke professorship, in 1968.

At Duke, he was renowned among undergraduates for his classroom teaching. He received both the Outstanding Professor Award, bestowed by undergraduates themselves, and the Duke Alumni Association's Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award. Braibanti directed 39 doctoral dissertations.

Braibanti wrote or contributed to 19 books. He was the founding president of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, which he led for nine years, helping nourish strong bonds of friendship between the United States and predominantly Muslim Pakistan. Late in life, he still found time to write a biography of the late A.R. Cornelius, a Roman Catholic who as chief justice of Pakistan administered a legal code derived from Islam.

He devoted 30 years to teaching, researching, consulting and founding institutions devoted to furthering understanding of Islam. In 1977 he established the Islamic and ArabianDevelopmentStudiesCenter at Duke with support from the Saudi Arabian government and 20 U.S. and multinational corporations. He directed the center until his retirement in 1990.

Among Braibanti's most cherished personal accomplishments at Duke was the donation to Perkins Library of 6,000 books on Islamic subjects. These books, many of them rare editions, came from Dr. Braibanti's personal library and from two collections donated to the Islamic Studies Center by close friends Joseph J. Malone and Louis and Nancy Hatcher DuPree.

Surviving Braibanti are his wife of 62 years, Lucy Kauffman Braibanti of Durham; a son, Ralph Lynn Braibanti of Reston, Virginia; a daughter, Claire B. Harold of Chapel Hill; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.