E. E. Evans-Pritchard

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Edward Evan (E.E.) Evans-Pritchard (September 21, 1902 - September 11, 1973) was a British anthropologist instrumental in the development of social anthropology in that country. He was professor at Oxford from 1946 to 1970.

Born in Sussex, England, he studied at the University of Oxford and then as a postgraduate at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). There he came under the influence of Bronislaw Malinowski and especially C.G. Seligman. His first fieldwork began in 1926 with the Azande people of the upper Nile and resulted in both a doctorate (in 1927) and his classic Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande (in 1937). Evans-Pritchard continued to lecture at the LSE and conduct research in Azande land until 1930, when he began new research project among the Nuer.

This work coincided with his appointment to the University of Cairo in 1932, where he gave a series of lectures on Primitive Religion that bore Seligman's influence. After his return to Oxford, he continued his research on Nuer. It was during this period that he first met Meyer Fortes and Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown. Evans-Pritchard began developing Radcliffe-Brown's program of structure-functionalism. As a result his trilogy of works on the Nuer (The Nuer, Nuer Religion, and Family and Marriage Among the Nuer) and the volume he coedited entitled African Political Systems came to be seen as classics of British structure-functionalism.

During WWII Evans-Pritchard served in Ethiopa, the Sudan, and Syria. In the Sudan he raised irregular african troops and engaged in guerilla warefare. In 1942 he was posted to the British Military Administration of Cyrenaica in North Africa, and it was on the basis of his experience there that he produced The Sanusi of Cyrenaica. In documenting local resistance to Italian conquest, he became one of a very few English language authors to write about the tarika that some believe to be the predecessors of today's radical Islamist cults. During the end of the war, in 1944, he took the unusual step of converting to Catholicism.

After a brief stint in Cambridge, Evans-Pritchard became professor of anthropology at the University of Oxford, where he remained for the rest of his career. His later work was more theoretical, drawing upon his experiences as anthropologist to philosophize on the nature of anthropology and how it should best be practiced. In 1950 he famously disavowed the commonly-held view that anthropology was a natural science, arguing instead that it should be grouped amongst the humanities. He argued that the main issue facing anthropologists was one of translation - finding a way to translate one's own thoughts into the world of another culture and thus manage to come to understand it, and then to translate this understanding back so as to explain it to people of one's own culture.

In 1965, he published the highly influential work Theories of Primitive Religion, arguing against the existing theories of primitive religious practices. Arguing along the lines of his theoretical work of the 1950s, he claimed that anthropologists rarely succeeded in entering the minds of the people they studied, and so ascribed to them motivations which more closely matched themselves and their own culture, not the one they are studying. He also argued that believers and non-believers approached the study of religion in vastly different ways, with non-believers being more quick to come up with biological, sociological, or psychological theories to explain religion as an illusion, and believers being more likely to come up with theories explaining religion as a method of conceptualizing and relating to reality.

He was knighted in 1971, and died in Oxford on September 11, 1973.fr:Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard

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