Leonardo A. Villalón is Dean of the International Center and Associate Provost at the University of Florida, where he is a Professor of Political Science and African Studies. He also coordinates the University of Florida’s Sahel Research Group. From 2002-2011 he served as Director of UF’s Center for African Studies, a US Department of Education Title VI comprehensive National Resource Center. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, as well as degrees from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris, the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, and Louisiana State University.
Villalón’s research specialization is in contemporary African politics, with a focus on Islam and politics, democratization, and religion and educational reform in the Sahelian countries of Senegal, Mali, and Niger. He is also interested more broadly in social change, institutional reform, electoral dynamics, and political stability across the six countries of the Francophone Sahel. Villalón is the general editor of the recent 40 chapter Oxford Handbook of the African Sahel (2021). He is the author of Islamic Society and State Power in Senegal (Cambridge University Press), and co-editor of Democratic Struggle, Institutional Reform, and State Resilience in the African Sahel (Lexington Books/Rowman and Littlefield, 2020); Entre le Savoir et le Culte : Activisme et mouvements religieux dans les universités du Sahel (Amalion 2020); The Fate of Africa's Democratic Experiments: Elites and Institutions. (Indiana University Press 2005) ; The African State at a Critical Juncture: Between Disintegration and Reconfiguration (Lynne Rienner publishers 1998), and the journal issue Economie morale et mutations de l’islam en Afrique subsaharienne (Afrique Contemporaine 231, 2009), as well as of many other articles and book chapters on politics and religion in West Africa.
In 2007 Villalón was named a Carnegie Scholar by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, for research on a project entitled: “Negotiating Democracy in Muslim Contexts: Political Liberalization and Religious Mobilization in the West African Sahel.” In collaboration with Mahaman Tidjani Alou of LASDEL, Niger, he subsequently directed a two year project analyzing religion and educational reform in the Sahel for the Africa Power and Politics (APPP) research consortium funded by the UK Department for International Development (DfID). He also codirected (with Daniel A. Smith, 2011-13) the State Department funded “Trans-Saharan Elections Project,” (TSEP) involving exchanges on electoral issues between the US and six countries: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad. He is editor of the TSEP website, providing information on electoral issues in the Sahel. From 2012-2016 he was PI on a Minerva Initiative grant for research on political reform, social change and prospects for stability in the same six Francophone Sahelian countries. He also directed follow-up Minerva research projects on relgious student movements on university campuses, as well as on the notion of laïcité (secularism) in the Sahel. He helped to initiate and to coordinate ongoing collaboration between the UF Sahel Research Group and the Sahel and West Africa Club of the OECD (Paris).
Villalón taught for two years as a Fulbright senior scholar at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal. He has also taught at the Université Gaston Berger in St. Louis, Senegal, and has lectured and directed seminars and workshops at universities and other institutions in numerous West African countries. From 2001-05 Villalón served as president of the West African Research Association (WARA), the only sub-Saharan African member institution of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC), based at the Smithsonian Institution. He is currently Chair of the CAORC Board of Directors. Villalón was co-editor of the Journal of Modern African Studies from 2012-2017, is an editor for the Cambridge University Press African Studies Series, and serves on numerous other editorial and advisory boards.