Fall semester 2005

Wednesday 1:15-4:00

















I)    Introduction


  To each and all, welcome(!) to Swarthmore, and very best wishes for the college career that you are now getting under way.


  Over the coming semester, we will be getting to know each other - you and me, and you and you - through working together.  Permit me now briefly to introduce myself.  I'm Steve Piker, an anthropologist.  Earlier in my career I did field work in a Thai rice village for two separate years with my spouse and, for the second of these years, with our infant son, Josh.  One of the main foci of the field work was popular religion, which in Thailand is Theravada Buddhism.  More recently, I've worked with religious conversion in the United States.  I've been teaching anthropology at Swarthmore for longer than you folks have been alive, and for the past several years I've also been foreign study adviser at Swarthmore.


  What you can expect of me:  You can expect me to be informal, friendly, always welcoming of your contributions(including suggestions about the seminar), responsive to your questions, and accessible.  I will be glad to see you in my office, either during office hours or by appointment, and I'll be glad to hear from you by e-mail.


  What I expect of you:  The specifics of what the seminar calls upon you to do are set forth in the remainder of the syllabus, below.  Generally, I expect you to be collegial, to intend to work well and informally and considerately with other members of the seminar.  I expect you to produce your work for the seminar in the manner set forth by the syllabus.  I expect you to be punctual in the production of your work and in making sure that you always get to seminar meetings on time.  I count on you to be forthcoming in sharing ideas, questions, observations, name it, in our discussions during seminar meetings.  It is precisely this kind of sharing that makes it productive and engaging to work on our subject matter in seminar format.  I expect you to be adults.


Office:  Kohlberg 244

Phone:   x-8111





II)   Readings


  The following books are available for purchase at the College bookstore.  Copies of each will also be on general reserve.  You should be able to do this seminar without buying any books.







  Assigned readings for the seminar will include these books(which are to be read from cover to cover), two further books(Obeyesekere, MEDUSA'S HAIR, and Weber, THE PROTESTANT ETHIC  AND THE SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM)which will be available in multiple copies on general reserve, and a number of articles and chapters, of which those for week 1 will be distributed to you before classes begin and the remainder handed out in class, one copy per student.



III)   Seminar proceedings


  The seminar will meet Wednesday afternoon from 1:15 to 4 in Kohlberg........   Our seminar meetings will be devoted to a mixture of discussion, group reports, buzz group exercises and discussion of same, and short lectures.  In the weekly schedule, below, you will find for most weeks a series of discussion issues or questions.  It is suggested that you do the weekly readings especially with reference to these issues and questions, so that you will be prepared to participate in discussion of same when the seminar meets.  It is important, therefore, that you complete each week's reading BEFORE the Wednesday seminar meeting.  Each member of the seminar is expected to participate in our discussions; and each member of the seminar will, once, have some responsibility for leading seminar discussion.


  Working with each other and helping each other should be an important part of everything that we do this semester, including production of the assigned work for the seminar.



IV)   Assigned work


  Assigned work for this seminar includes two non-graded assignments and two graded assignments.


Oral report.  Not graded.  In groups of two, members of the seminar will be expected to present oral reports on issues, identified by yours truly, arising from the assigned readings, and to lead a seminar discussion based upon the report.  On the weekly schedule, below, report topics are presented for the appropriate weeks.  We will do most but, probably, not all of these.  The report for the next week will be specifically assigned in seminar the preceding week.  No extra reading for the reports, and two person report groups can expect to spend about 30-60 minutes out of class preparing the report.


Buzz group exercises.  Not graded.  On two or three occasions during the semester, the seminar will be divided into small groups to discuss, during our scheduled meeting times, issues arising from the readings.  Immediately following which, each buzz group will summarize the gist of its discussion for discussion by the entire seminar.


Essays.  Graded.  Assigned in (VI), below.


Field work project.  Graded.  Assigned in (VII), below.



Educational rationale for this mix of assigned work:  The serious conduct of inquiry, including academic or scholarly inquiry, begins with early tentative efforts(e.g., getting familiar with relevant literatures, sharing provisional ideas and formulations through informal exchanges with others, and especially getting feed back from others on the early provisional ideas); and moves on to the production of a polished final product which will be of use and interest to others working in the same field.  Our seminar is intended to give you some experience with all parts of this process.  Of course, our in-seminar discussions will be clear examples of the early stages of this business.  The oral reports and buzz group exercises are intended to move us a little further down the road, but they won't really go beyond the preliminary and the tentative.  On the other hand, the field work project and the essays most definitely should do so.  The former calls upon you to generate primary data, record and organize these data, and then make the data the bases for a systematic descriptive report, re the focal issue of the field work project.  The latter, for each essay, calls upon you to identify course materials(readings, in-seminar discussion)germane to the issue(s) identified by the individual essay assignments, and to organize these materials into an essay which contains a sound line of reasoning which effectively addresses the issue(s).


  And, because this is a seminar, and because the point of doing it this way is to work with and help each other especially through exchanges of ideas and questions and perspectives and whatnot, and because seminar meetings provide the main venue for such exchanges, seminar attendance is required of all members of the seminar.  Grade penalties for unexcused absences.  Extra curricular activities which conflict with scheduled seminar meetings will not be bases for excused absences.



V)    Weekly schedule.


31 AUGUST.  Introduction.  Religion as a cultural institution; the universality of religion to human cultures




1)  What is religion?

2)  Religion and religiousness

3)  The three contexts:  social, historical, biographical

4)  Field work, and why it is essential for us

5)  Seminar procedures





Clifford Geertz.   "The impact of the concept of culture on the concept of man."

________      "From the native's point of view:  On the nature of anthropological     understanding."

R. Stephen Warner.  "Dualistic and monistic religion."

Robert Bellah.  "Religious evolution"

Horace Miner.  "Body ritual among the Nacirema."



Discussion issues:


1)  Geertz("The impact...")has a point to make, an axe to grind.  In advancing his point of view, he rebuts an earlier, widely accepted point of view. What is the earlier point of view?  What are Geertz' objections to it?  What is the point of view that Geertz likes, and how does he support this point of view?


2)  Field work comprises the suite of empirical methods par excellence by which anthropologists learn about culture in local life situations.  By its nature, field work entails a special kind of relationship between the field worker and the natives he or she is learning about.  Geertz("From the native's point of view...")has a point of view on this relationship, one that disagrees with earlier widely held ideas among anthropologists.  What are the earlier ideas?  What is Geertz' rejoinder to them?


3)  What does Warner mean by dualistic and monistic religion?  Try to think of examples of each from the modern American religious situation.  What is the importance of this distinction to the anthropological study of religion?


4)  Bellah's paper is mainly devoted to presenting a five fold taxonomy of all of the religions of humankind, present and past.  The concepts that Bellah deploys to discriminate among the five types will be useful to us in thinking about religion comparatively, or cross culturally.  For openers, how does Bellah understand the main difference(s) between historic religions, on the one hand, and primitive and archaic religions, on the other hand?


5)  Miner's paper, of course, comprises a spoof.  Does it also contain a serious message for us?  If so, what is the message?



7 SEPTEMBER     Religiousness and the life cycle; individual religiousness as a career.




1)  Selective individual uses of shared religion

2)  Religious meaning:  psychological perspectives

3)  Religious meaning:  religiousness and the rest of the life of the religioso





Jerome Bruner.  "Two modes of thought."

________   "Life as narrative"


Discussion issues:


1)  Nelson's novel presents a religious biography, a part of the religious career of one person, Jo.  Take a stab a figuring out the relevance, if any, of Bruner's 'narrative mode of thought' to this religious biography - and, by extension, to any and all religious biographies, and to religiousness generally.


2)  Jo is a Christian, Jo is a Protestant, Jo becomes a fundamentalist.  Suppose we unpacked each of these three categories in detail.  Would we then have a full characterization of Jo's religiousness?  If not, what are we missing?


Report:  Bruner and Nelson.  The narrative mode of thought and Jo's religiousness.



14 SEPTEMBER.  Religiousness and the life cycle; individual religiousness as a career(continued from previous week)




1)  Selective individual use of shared religion(continued)

2)  Religious meaning:  psychological perspectives(continued)

3)  Religious ritual:  what is it?

4)  Religious ritual and emotional empowerment

5)  Religiousness and personal reconstruction




Gananath Obeyesekere.  MEDUSA'S HAIR

________   ""Psychocultural exegesis of a case of spirit possession from Sri Lanka."


Discussion issues:


1)  We now have two extended religious biographies(Jo, from Nelson; and Somavati, from Obeyesekere), as well as briefer religious biographies from MEDUSA'S HAIR.  Each biography is germane to the general issue:  how do individuals make personal, selective, creative uses of culturally shared religion?


2)  All of social life exhibits repetitious regularities.  This is a large part of what we mean when we use the term 'role,' e.g., role of student or teacher or parent or auto mechanic.  Religious ritual exhibits repetitious regularities.  Therefore, religious ritual is like(and, indeed, is a part of)social life generally.  How, though, is religious ritual different from the rest of social life?


3)  From Bruner, we get a perspective on the psychological bases of religious meaningfulness, and we get such a perspective as well from Obeyesekere.  Take a stab at comparing, contrasting, and juxtaposing these two perspectives.  How, if at all, are they different?  If they are different, do the differences amount to disagreement?  Or complementarity?  Or.......?


Report:  Somavati, ritual, and emotional empowerment



21 SEPTEMBER.  Field work projects


  Our seminar meeting this week will be devoted to getting you all squared away on the field work assignment, including especially equipping you with methods for observation and recording of data.




James Spradley.  PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION(selections)




1)  What is field work good for?

2)  What are its limitations?

3)  Ethical issues in the doing of field work



28 SEPTEMBER.  Collective ritual and group cohesion




1)  The ritual process

2)  Ritual and experience

3)  Ritual and social solidarity

4)  The experience of the sacred






Discussion issues:


1)  Why do the !Kung do trance healing?

2)  Among the !Kung we see a level and intensity of individual identification with and dependence upon the local group that is unknown in our lives.  This identification is mediated and facilitated by collective ritual.  How so?

3)  Trace is an example of what we sometimes call altered states of consciousness.  What does this expression mean, and how does !Kung trance dancing exemplify it?

4)  the cases of Jo(Neslon), Somavati and the matted hair ascetics(Obeyesekere),  and trance dancers(Katz)illustrate the intimate association of religiousness with extraordinary experience(as will, later on, the cases of Martin's Indians and Weber's Calvinists and Braude's spiritualists).  Suppose that we were to say, provisionally, that this association is the experience of the sacred. How then would we characterize the experience of the sacred?  And how should we understand the relationship of the experience of the sacred to religiousness?


Report:  Wellness and illness among the !Kung



5 OCTOBER.  Supernaturalism; experienced human relationships with the supernatural




1)  Behavioral environment(Hallowell), and the significance of supernaturalism for same

2)  The social nature of the relationship between natives and the supernatural

3)  Sources of religious change





2)  A. Irving Hallowell.  "The self and its behavioral environment."

3)  Melford E. Spiro.  "Religion and the irrational."


Discussion issues:


1)  Hallowell argues that the self(including, especially individual experience)is culturally constituted.  How and what we think and feel, what we believe to be true and our grounds for believing it - all of this is importantly conditioned by the culture into which we are born and in which we grow up and live our lives.  What is the relevance of this to the understanding of religion as a cultural institution that we have been developing?


2)  What, sensibly, might we mean were we to say that some beliefs or ideas(or bodies of same)are more rational than others, or that some beliefs and ideas are rational and others are irrational?  thus, I expect that we have all heard it said that, e.g., science is rational and, e.g., superstition is irrational.  What is the relevance of the papers by Hallowell and Spiro to this issue of?  Is the American Indian belief in the reality of animal spirits rational or irrational?


3)  Martin portrays Indian/animal relationships in social terms.  How, if at all, are these relationships similar to and/or continuous with the social relationships that the Indians enact among themselves?


Report:  Martin:  Indian/animal relationships and their disruption






19   OCTOBER.   Religion in history; religion and the meaning of everyday life.




1)  Elective affinity

2)  Religion and the meaning, for the native, of everyday life

3)  Parochialization:  the 'lay ethic' of religion





Steven Piker.  "Max Weber and our current understanding of Theravada Southeast Asia"

________  "Buddhist ethics:  an anthropological perspective."


Discussion issues:


1)  When the writings and teachings and preachings of Calvin became known in Reformation Europe, a few groups adopted them - became Calvinists - and most did not, then or later.  How, re Weber, are we to understand this selective adoption of Calvinism in 17th century Europe?


2)Weber identifies the Calvinist phrasing of the predestination doctrine as the wellspring of popular Calvinism in the 17th century.  How, in Weber's understanding, did this doctrine come to provide the motivational basis for the spirit of capitalism?


3)  What does Weber mean by rationality of belief?  For Weber, what does it mean to say that some religions(e.g., Calvinism)are more rational, and others(e.g., Catholicism)are less rational?  Is this a value judgement on Weber's part?  And, we looked at religion and rationality issues last week.  In his treatment of this, is Weber posing the same issues as do Hallowell and Spiro?


4)  In the modern U.S., Presbyterians are the direct historical descendants of Weber's 17th century Calvinists.  As regards the contents of their  religiousness, these are certainly two horses of very different colors.  Somehow, 17th century Calvinism morphed into contemporary Presbyterianism.  How might we usefully think about how this transformation occurred?


Report:  Calvinism and the texture of everyday life.



26  OCTOBER.  Buzz group exercise, re Weber.


  THE PROTESTANT ETHIC AND THE SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM depicts, inter alia, a community of religious people - 17th century Calvinists - whose lives are unremittingly and methodically rationalized and driven by a work ethic of almost super human intensity.  The book further purports to show that this work ethic is grounded in and expresses the Calvinists' religious beliefs.


  The movie, 'Chariots of Fire,' set mainly at Cambridge University in England in the years immediately following World War I, features two protagonists, a Scottish Presbyterian and an English Jew, each of whom is a world class runner.  For each, a work ethic comparable to that of Weber's Calvinists enables extraordinary athletic accomplishment.


  During our seminar meeting, we will view the movie.  Following which, the seminar will be divided into buzz groups, each of which will be asked to discuss the following questions  for each runner, what are the cultural - including specifically religious - foundations of his work ethic?  How do these cultural foundations impart compelling meaning and motivation to the athletic strivings of the runners?



2 NOVEMBER.  Religion in history; religion and the meaning of everyday life(continued from the past two weeks)




1)  Elective affinity(continued)

2)  Religion as a means for the empowerment of individuals and groups(e.g., folks of the female persuasion)

3)  Spiritualism and sex roles:  an early women's movement






Discussion issues:


1)   Why did a women's movement in mid-19th century Northeast America take the form and content described by Braude, and not the form and content of the women's movement that we are familiar with from the past few decades?


2)  Can we properly see spiritualism as described by Braude as direct historical precursor to the women's movement in the U.S. of the past few decades?


3)  Only a small minority of 17th century European Protestants became Calvinists, although many or most could have done so.  Only a small minority of 19th century Americans got involved in spiritualism, although many more could have done so.  These circumstances illustrate the core of the elective affinity issue:    Why and how do some people(and groups)and a particular creed come together at a specific time and place in history?



9 NOVEMBER.  Religious change in the Modern U.S.; yet more on elective affinity




1)  Religious complexity:  of what does it consist in the U.S.?

2)  Religious change:  of what does it consist in the U.S.?




R. Stephen Warner.  "Work in progress toward a new paradigm for the sociological study of religion in the United States."


Discussion issues:


1)  Many say that Warner, in the paper we are reading this week, is intellectually indebted to Weber.  Give some thought to the relationship of his pluralism/market model for religious complexity and change in the Modern U.S. to Weber's elective affinity model.  Is Warner rephrasing and amplifying the elective affinity model for application to a type of situation that Weber did not treat?  Or has Warner developed a different kind of model for religious change?  Or......?


2)  What does 'religious freedom,' mean, culturally, to Warner in the modern situation?


3)  Constitutionally, 'religious freedom' in the U.S  means that no religion(s) can be established by the state.  What are the implications of this disestablishment provision of the constitution for the pattern of cultural religious freedom that Warner depicts?


Report:  The old and the new paradigms



16 NOVEMBER.  Buzz group exercise.


  Although the seminar has not been flogging industrial strength theory, in fact our materials have provided a substantial introduction to two different theoretically grounded inquiry agendas in the anthropological and sociological study of religion, each of which is important and widely adopted in these disciplines.  The first of these is reductionist(please see 'terms and concepts' handout),  and is exemplified by the work of Obeyesekere.  For the specific instances of religiousness that Obeyesekere wishes to understand - e.g., Somavatis' possession episodes and their sequalae, the devotional practices of the matted hair ascetics and Tuan the hook hanger - Obeyesekere adopts a biographical approach heavily flavored by personality psychology.  He asks, in effect, what was it in the earlier life experiences of these religiosos the enduring psychological consequences of which 'fit' so well with their observed later-in-life religiousness?  And, for Obeyesekere, it is this biographically understood 'fit' which at once explains the compelling motivational significance of the religious usage to the religioso and the psychological functions served for the religioso by enacting the the usage.  The second of these is non-reductionist(please see 'terms and concepts' handout), and is exemplified by the work of Weber and Braude.  The approach here is largely social historical, and aims first at understanding why certain groups(e.g., some 17th century Protestants, 19th century American women)and certain faiths(e.g., Calvinism, spiritualism)mutually embrace and, second, at understanding the ways in which the lives of the newly faithful are configured by the embrace.


  The following questions are posed for the buzz groups:  A)  These approaches differ.  do they disagree?  If so, how so?  B)  Alternately, is it possible that they are, in whole or in part, complementary?  A good way to come at this one is to ask, if the specific approach in fact succeeds(i.e., if we grant its explanatory or interpretive claims), what specific questions about religiousness does it answer?



23 NOVEMBER.  Meetings with field research groups.


  There will be no seminar meeting this week.  Instead, each field research group(please see section VII of the syllabus)will have an appointment with yours truly to review its findings and plan the final field report.  If convenient, I can meet with some of the groups during our scheduled seminar time on Wednesday.  I can meet with them earlier in the week.  And, if any of the groups are ready and disposed to do so earlier in the semester, we can meet before this week.



30 NOVEMBER.  Wrap up


  Our seminar meeting this week will be devoted to reviewing major emphases of the course, and discussing the essay assignments.





  For each of the seven essay topics, below, members of the seminar are asked to compose a brief essay, about two and a half to three double spaced pages.  Further........


Final drafts of all essays are due on the last day of the exam period.  First drafts of the essays are due according to the following schedule:  (1) and (2) on 28 September;   (3) and (4) on 14 November; the remainder on 5 December.  Immediately following submission of your draft essays, each of you and I will have a scheduled meeting to discuss the drafts, toward revision for the final draft.


With the approval of yours truly, students may prepare essays in small groups and submit collective essays.  Same grade for all students in the group.  If you are going to do this, the group must work together on both the first and final drafts of the essays.


 1)  "Bruner's 'narrative mode of thought' pertains pare excellence to the religious dimension of human experience."  Please discuss and evaluate.


2)  "Religiousness can be a tool for personal reconstruction."  You are asked to show how this works with reference to two of the case studies that we have consulted.


3)  "A change in religious affiliation or orientation can, for a group, be a means for social betterment."  Please illustrate this process, and say something about how it works, with case material drawn from two of the following authors:  Weber, Braude, Warner.


4)  Obeyesekere depicts the psychologically and socially transformative effects of ritual upon the individual, and so does Katz.  Please compare and contrast their respective approaches to this issue.  For each author, please attend especially to how and why, in their respective views,  ritual has such transformative effects.


5)  Each of us is specifically cultural, according to the cultural environment in which we have grown up.  Thus, the majority of Swarthmore students and faculty members are clearly middle class Americans and not, e.g., Thai or Sinhalese villagers or !Kung Bushmen or 17th century Calvinists.  On the other hand, each of us has individuality, which consists significantly of the selective and creative ways we relate to and use our shared cultural heritage.  You are asked to elucidate this juxtaposition between cultural determinism and individual creativity or agency by reference to two of the case studies that we have consulted.  From this, what can you say about the potential and limitations of freedom in the human career?


6)  'Religiousness' directs our attention to the individual, and his or her experience of religion.  Obeyesekere, Nelson, Weber, Martin, Braude, and Katz is each concerned, inter alia, with individual religious experience and what it consists of.  The guiding definition of religion for this seminar features experienced association with anthropomorphized suprahuman beings.  For any two of these authors, you are asked to show how reference to anthropomorphized suprahuman beings figures in their treatments of religious experience.


7)  You are asked to make up a question which frames an important issue treated by the seminar or suggested to you by the seminar, and to answer it.





  Our seminar illustrates that religiousness is enormously variable - cross culturally, intra culturally, and within the life span of an individual.  Indeed, this variability is one of the most striking and important aspects of religiousness as a vital part of the human story.


  the purpose of the field work project is to enable you to observe religious variability first hand and in an organized and focused manner.  One good way to do this is to adopt a comparative research design, which calls upon you to observe two instances of religiousness, selected to highlight some aspect of religious variability which we know to be important.


  Religious variability within the life span of the individual is one such aspect.  How to observe it?  Right now, you don't have the several years that would be required to follow individuals from one stage of life to another(although, as part of the research component of an anthropology career, this is definitely possible).  In lieu of this, though, you can compare suitably matched samples of people, e.g., members of the same religious faith and approximately the same station in life at different stages of the life cycle, e.g., members of the Swarthmore Protestant student group Caritas and members of one of the Protestant churches(Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian)in Swarthmore.


  For most religious Americans, regular attendance at weekly services for worship is an important part of their religiousness.  This, plus the fact that some such services for worship re close at hand and scheduled and open to the public, make them a good choice for field research sites for us.


  The seminar will be divided into small field research groups, each of which will attend services for worship at aq local church or temple of synagogue, and will also attend services for worship with the matched Swarthmore student religious group(Caritas, Ruach, Newman Club).  This will eventuate in the production, by each research group, of field reports to be submitted at the end of the semester, which reports will describe the similarities and differences, re religiousness, of middle class American college students and adults, respectively.


  What this will require of you:


1) Preparation in seminar, week of 21 September, with brief supporting readings.  No other assigned work this week.


2)  Attendance at one on campus and one off campus service for worship.  Each attendance will be preceded by a brief research group huddle, to work out an observational division of labor; and followed by another brief  research group huddle to finalize and collate field notes.


3)  Research group meetings with yours truly week of 23 November(or sooner), to present findings and plan the final report.  This will be preceded by a research group huddle, during which the group will organize how it is going to present its findings to yours truly.


4)  Preparation of final field research report, due the last day of exam period.  8-10 pages.


Trinity Episcopal Church.  Chester Road and College Avenue

Swarthmore Methodist Church.  100 block of Park Avenue, next to borough hall, about a block or so from the train station in the ville

Swarthmore Presbyterian Church.  727 Harvard Avenue, one hundred yards beyond the red barn on the way to ML

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church.  21 Franklin Avenue, Morton.  About one and a half miles and one train stop removed

Notre Dame Church.  Fairview Ave, Ridley Park.  About one mile from campus

Congregation Ohev Shalom.  2 Chester Road, Wallingford.  About a mile and a half from campus





VIII)  Terms and Concepts for the Seminar



1) Culture. Anthropologists use the term 'culture' in(at least)the two following ways:


A) General and evolutionarily. Culture is the mode of adaptation of the human species. All human groups, now and in the past, are fully cultural. A cultural mode of adaptation features, e.g., language, technology and material culture, learned and diversifiable social relationships, and belief systems. Necessary for all of this is capacity for symbolization. In cross species perspective, it is evident that culture in this sense is not an all or none thing. Many species - extant and extinct - other than the human species are cultural in one way or another and to significant extents.


B) Specific and contemporary. A specific culture - e.g., Shinhalese, !Kung, Thai, Navajo - is the lifeway of a particular human group. Human cultures are highly diverse. Please N.B., this does not imply that a specific culture must be a neatly bounded self contained entity; and, indeed, in the real world of human cultures this condition virtually never obtains. i. Distinct cultures share traits. ii. Cultural boundaries are permeable: both people and traits cross them. iii. Many 'named' cultures - e.g., American, Creek Indian - are actually historically recent amalgams of several disparate cultures. iv. All cultures, by virtue of the ubiquity of diffusion, adopt and adapt and incorporate exogenous culture traits. v. An individual may have a multicultural identity.



2) Field work(ethnography, participant observation)


  Field work, or ethnography, is the main empirical method for learning about local life, that is, natives in naturalistic, everyday situations, how natives behave, what the situations mean to natives, and how natives experience their lives.  Usually, when anthropologists study culture(in the sense of 1,B, just above)empirically, the locus and focus of the study is local life, e.g., the Thai rice village of about fifty households in which I lived did field work for two years.  The ethnographer typically lives with the people he or she is learning about, accommodates to their customs, tries to speak their language, and merges his or her life in socially significant ways with the lives of the people being studied.  Participation is a main means for learning.  Ethnography is not a single method.  It can, and typically does, involve, e.g., observing, listening, conversing, questioning or interviewing, recording, and filming; and it may involve administration of tests.  An ethnographic study takes a long time.  The ethnographer may well be there pretty much non-stop for a year, sometimes longer.  And often the ethnographer will return, sometimes more than once, for more extended field work.  Ethnography is done mainly but not exclusively by anthropologists, and has been going on in a sustained way around the world for more than a century.  Andy and all aspects of local life - e.g., social relations, subsistence practices, religiousness, family and kinship, violence, recreation, art, education, politics, substance abuse, material culture, crime, healing practices - can be studied ethnographically.  Ethnographically helps mightily in uncovering connections - especially as experienced by natives - among different parts of natives' lives, thereby enabling wholistic perspectives on local life.  Many thousands of ethnolgraphic reports - e.g., books  articles, monographs, films - have been produced.  These reports, in the aggregate, comprise the ethnographic record.  The ethnographic record contains the most extensive documentation of the diversity of human lifeways available.  But, of course, it treats only a tiny fraction of human history and human experience.


  Please N.B., the importance of ethnography, or field work, as the empirical method par excellence of anthropology for the study of culture entails that local life is the primary object of study.  This distinguishes anthropology from other fields, e.g., cultural studies, which largely takes culture as expressed in, e.g., texts or movies or media or music or art as the primary object of study.  Although the word 'culture' is ubiquitous in the writings of both fields, because of this fundamental difference in empirical focus and methodologies it does not mean the same thing in the respective fields.  The cultural studies folks seem sometimes to be unaware of this.



3) Cultural relativism. This expression has many uses. Here we note two of them.


A) World views - how people think about and understand and experience the world, especially life as we inescapably live it - are to a significant extent specific to cultures. This is an empirical proposition. It is indisputably true(although the limits to the proposition implied by ' a significant extent...' are debated).


B) Because, inevitably, we think about things in terms of the symbols and meanings embodied by our cultures(A, just above), universal, cross culturally valid, timeless truth is not possible. This is a philosophical issue. The empirical correctness of (A) does not, on logical grounds, address this issue.


Taken in conjunction, (A) and (B) can often, for anthropologists and others, be vexing. Thus, accepting (A) as most anthropologists do, we are disposed to intend to respect cultural practices and the natives who enact them, even if the practices are alien or even obnoxious to us. But sometimes we find the practices - e.g., what the Nazis did, female genital mutilation - to be so repugnant that we feel obligated morally to condemn them. When this occurs, we often find ourselves seeking a universally valid ethic to justify our moral condemnation. Impressionistically, these efforts often have recourse to the device of 'self evident truth' - either negatively, through the use of, e.g., the term 'evil;' or positively, by, e.g., positing inalienable human rights.




4) Emic and Etic. These funny sounding paired terms refer to two different perspectives on the same thing(e.g., a cultural practice), that of the insider(native)and of the outsider(researcher, e.g., anthropologist). The terms come from descriptive linguistics, where the 'same thing' is a speech sound. For any speech sound, phonetics describes the sound in physical terms. Only a trained linguist can do phonetics. A native speaker can't begin to do phonetics with his or her own speech, and the linguist's phonetic representation of speech would be incomprehensible to a native speaker(unless the native speaker were also a trained linguist). Phonemics, on the other hand, treats what makes the sound(s)uniquely meaningful to native speakers. Whereas phonetics has nothing to do with the speaker's understanding of his or her own speech, phonemics is grounded expressly in the speaker's understanding of what his or her speech means, it embodies the speaker's perspective on his or her own speech.


Analogously, think of the Somavati case presented for us by the anthropologist Gananath Obeyesekere. The emic, the native perspective on her situation says she is possessed, and should be responded to accordingly. An etic perspective on the same thing, which would be sensible to us and is developed by Obeyesekere, is grounded in the field of anthropology which arose and developed in the West, and whose development partook not at all of Sinhalese culture.


Further: a) For, e.g., the Somavati case, the emic and etic perspectives certainly disagree. Which(if either)is correct? Almost always, for the anthropologist, this is not a useful question, we shouldn't waste time on it. Thus, I expect that most anthropologists(including Obeyesekere)don't believe in the existence of ghosts and demons. But it's not part of our calling as anthropologists to treat native beliefs(and practices rationalized by them)as empirical propositions to be tested according to the procedures and criteria of Western science. Rather, it's out job, first, fully and accurately and contextually to describe the usages which are important in the lives of the natives we are learning about; and, second, to try to figure out why, in the context of these lives, these usages are compellingly sensible to natives. b) It is increasingly commonplace, as literacy overtakes even remote parts of the third world, for natives to read studies of them produced by outsiders. Often, these studies contain etic perspectives on native life and culture. Sometimes native readers criticize these etic perspectives on the grounds that, as natives, they know the significance of the usages of their own culture; and if their native knowledge disagrees with the outsider's knowledge, then the outsider is ipso facto wrong. What about this? The point to remember is this: emic and etic are disjunctive frames of reference. The validity of an etic perspective is properly judged in terms of the frame of reference which generates it. Of course, if we don't think a frame of reference is worthwhile, then we won't be interested in any of the perspectives it generates.. Thus, modern chemists don't have much time for anything that comes from alchemy. c) Much of anthropology addresses the meaningfulness to natives of local life. If we wish to interpret this etically, as does Obeyesekere, it is imperative that we first learn and describe the emic perpsective, as does Obeyesekere. In other words, the emic perspective - e.g., Somavati's experience of her possession episode and its sequalae - is Obeyesekere's empirical object of analysis. If he doesn't have this in proper focus, he can't get anywhere, no matter how worthwhile his etic interpretive frame of reference may be.



5) Native. We are all natives. We differ one from another according to what culture(s) and/or sub cultures we are natives of.