Interview with Lysbeth Warren Anderson, Pioneering Patron of Islamic Studies at Stanford

As we approach the Abbasi Program’s 20TH anniversary next September 2023, we are conducting a series of interviews with our founding benefactors and faculty affiliates. Through their narrative of the Islamic Studies Program’s earliest days, these oral histories are part of an effort to preserve the history of our Program’s founding and reflect on the state of the field at Stanford today.

On April 5th, Abbasi Associate Director Farah El-Sharif, interviewed Ms. Lysbeth Warren Anderson, who, along with her late husband Vernon Anderson, endowed the first Chair in Islamic Studies in the Religious Studies in 1988, and coalesced to support the founding of the Abbasi Program in 2003.  (Since her 2002 marriage to John Working, Lysbeth is also known as Lysbeth Working; however, she retains her previous name in Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences communications.)

Now nearing 90 years of age and based in Vermont, and an alumna of the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences, Lysbeth earned her bachelor’s degree in 1954, majoring in social science and social thought. Her many interests include environmental protection, community healthcare, and educational policy issues. Her extensive world travel allows her to blend interests in adventure, anthropology, geology, history, religion, and birding.

In the Zoom interview with Dr. El-Sharif, Lysbeth reflected fondly on her unlikely early exposure to Islamic Studies: at a liberal church in Seattle, Washington, where she grew up in the late 30s. “In an assignment, I chose Islam to write about and consulted the Britannica in our home,” recalling the dismay of her teacher, for choosing Islam as a topic of study.

As a junior at Stanford in 1953, Lysbeth said that taking a class with Aldous Huxley who taught a class about transcendentalism and meditation from across different traditions, cemented her personal interest in world religions.

She cited her family’s extensive travels around the world as being a primary motivator to support the Humanities in general at Stanford, efforts of which also led to the creation of the Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Deanship of the School of Humanities and Sciences.

 In 1988, the Andersons felt there was a need to familiarize Stanford students with religions and cultures which are not “Eurocentric”, which culminated with a gift to establish The Lysbeth Warren Anderson professorship in Islamic Studies, housed in the Religious Studies Department (which is currently unfilled) with matching funds from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Working primarily with Professor Rober Gregg, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, and other Stanford faculty, Lysbeth recalled that it “wasn’t easy” to advance Islamic Studies at Stanford, but that the “group efforts of many over the years” helped to create the Program, which was made possible by the generous gift of Sohaib and Sara Abbasi in 2003, our Program’s benefactors.

We are grateful to Lysbeth for sharing the story of her lifelong involvement of supporting the Humanities in general and for being one of the earliest benefactors for the field of Islamic Studies at Stanford.