Anthropology (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
Anthropology is the study of humanity, in all its aspects, in all times and all places. In this sense, everyone is an anthropologist, for everyone is curious about themselves and their fellow humans, and people often ask anthropological questions. Anthropology is distinctive not so much in subject as in approach. Much of the character of the field, and the heart of its contribution, have come through ethnographic fieldwork, which comprises a large suite of techniques for studying people in qualitative and quantitative depth, typically while living among them for extended periods. The anthropologist's ideal is to learn a people's language, live with them, observe them in their day to day lives and in special events, all the while taking measurements, listing names, and holding extended discussions about their gods, cosmologies, and opinions of each other. Participant observation in which anthropologists do things with the people they are studying to the extent they allow brings such a wealth of knowledge that many anthropologists spend the rest of their lives discovering new insights from even their first trip to the field.
Themes and approaches
This wealth of information is studied in distinctive ways. Anthropologists are divided on whether the discipline can or even should be considered a science, but even the most scientific anthropologists recognize that a qualitative, interpretive study of ethnographic findings must play a major role. Understanding another group of people involves the search for meaning in what they do and say. The difference between the simple empirical observation that someone's eyelid twitched and understanding what someone was really up to when he winked at another person, entering the web of social relations and subtle meanings behind this little conspiracy, is what Clifford Geertz, following philosopher Gilbert Ryle, calls "thin description versus thick description." Ethnography, he concludes, is thick description. This is also what is needed for any broader, more abstract comparative study in anthropology.
Anthropological questioning is also guided by certain basic concepts or themes, such as cultural relativism. Often contrasted with ethnocentrism, cultural relativism is the insistence on evaluating customs and ideas in terms of that culture's own values rather than those of another culture. Such an approach is sometimes confused with the different and not particularly viable idea that all customs are of equal practical and moral value. Anthropology seeks to understand, for example, why female circumcision or ritual cannibalism have been so important to certain peoples, and how such practices function within those cultures. Everyone benefits from this greater understanding, but it does not follow that everyone must find these practices acceptable.
A second theme is holism, the attempt to comprehend the breadth and depth of what is human and how it fits together. Thus, anthropology's concern is not just with, for example, the economy itself, but with questions such as "How does the economy relate to kinship, status, and political considerations?" and "How do all these together affect what it is like being a woman in such a situation rather than a man?" Anthropology also strives to comprehend the breadth of human cultural, social, and physical variation. For example, compared to the specialized field of economics, anthropology explores the full range of what human economies can be like. Similarly, anthropology seeks to understand the nature of political leadership in the broadest terms, not just by comparing, for example, various types of centralized states (democracy with theocracy with monarchy), but by adding Polynesian and African chiefdoms, Micronesian big-man leadership, and the rise of leaders among less centralized or hierarchical hunter-gatherer societies. Without denying that democracies and monarchies differ, these differences are like shades of red compared to the full spectrum of human possibilities. And knowing as much as possible about the full range of human customs can be helpful in answering questions such as "What is economy?" "What is religion?" and "What is art?" as well as corollary questions such as "In what sense is religion a part of what it means to be human?"
Interestingly, an opposing perspective, usually labeled particularist, has occasionally swept the field. During such times the common wisdom is that culture is not an integrated system, and comparison among cultures is inevitably more misleading than helpful. Typologies of culture such as savagery, barbarism, and civilization, or the more recent band, tribe, chiefdom, and state model of neo-evolutionists such as Steward, Service, Fried, and Earle, are scorned as constraining, simplistic, wooden, or even propaganda promoting Western hegemony.
There is also value in balancing holism and high-level comparisons with an emphasis on that which is unique about each known people. Recent anticomparativist trends have been enmeshed in postmodern philosophical concerns, eliciting the same sometimes rancorous arguments found in other fields. But anthropology's expansive ambitions have always been shadowed by occasional epistemological failure of nerve. One does not have to claim that "all human knowledge is impossible" to appreciate the difficulty of demonstrating how deeply human thought is influenced by cultural upbringing, and the difficulty of correctly describing the important depths of another people's culture.
Perspectives toward culture
Probably the field's greatest conceptual contribution to human understanding comes through developing and elaborating the concept of culture. In his Primitive Culture (1871), Edward Burnett Tylor introduced the term culture into his new science of humanity, which he called anthropology. Despite many suggestions for alternative definitions, Tylor's is still popular: "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society" (Tylor, p.1). An increasing number of anthropologists prefer not to include behavior within the category, seeing culture as socially transmitted information, or as Geertz puts it, patterns for behavior, not patterns of behavior. This approach avoids the difficulty of explaining culture in terms of itself and highlights the common disparity between what people say and what they do. This approach also reminds us that not all behavior is cultural (for example, blinks vs. winks).
Anthropologists have traditionally understood culture as radically separate from biology. Alfred Kroeber's influential "superorganic" notion views culture as having almost a life of its own, molding each individual far more than the individual molds culture. Franz Boas and his students, including Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, set out early in the twentieth century to demonstrate a radical cultural relativism. Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) convinced generations of Americans that even something assumed to be biological and inevitable, such as the rocky period of adolescence, was not experienced in Samoa. Thus, if not all people behave the same way, the reasons must be cultural rather than biological. Derek Freeman has argued convincingly that Mead's conclusion was largely in error, partly as a result of mistaken interpretation, but also because Mead's teenage informants enjoyed playing games with the naïve outsider.
The emphasis on culture, particularly as a variable that is both influential and somewhat independent of biology, is nevertheless an important theme in anthropology. This perspective has also ensured that anthropologists became among the most ardent critics of sociobiology. Along with many reductionistic ideas popular in Western academia, sociobiology puts itself in the strange position of imaginatively crafting reasons we should choose to believe even our cultures are controlled by genes and both imagination and human choice are illusory. Anthropologists do not necessarily defend freedom of the will; a more typical argument is that while humans may be deeply constrained, culture, which is highly symbolic and essentially arbitrary, is as strong a determining influence on the individual as biology.
Nevertheless, interest in biological influences has grown among anthropologists who are exploring a range of approaches from gene-culture coevolution and dual inheritance to memetics. While memetics has its reductionistic aspects (Susan Blackmore has said that culture is a meme's way of replicating itself), in very important ways, memetics recognizes culture as relatively autonomous, beyond either the thought or the biology of the individual.
The search for human universals, an intense preoccupation of anthropology in its early days, but periodically out of favor, has also become more acceptable since the publication of Donald Brown's Human Universals in 1991. Brown offers many examples of human traits that are universal, including difficulties during adolescence and the practice of joking. Even examples illustrating how different cultures can be from each other contain elements of universality; for example, people express social respect in an extraordinary variety of ways, but the fundamental idea behind such behaviors is more or less the same. It is, of course, no easy matter to demonstrate that something is truly universal, and attempts to do so have provoked many arguments about whether a certain group of people genuinely constitutes an exception. But the issue itself is of immense importance, for once it is acknowledged that all people have many things in common, the radical individualism and subjectivism of certain philosophies, as well as categorical assertions that, for example, males could never understand females, rich the poor, or one "race" the thinking of someone from another, lose some of their force.
Subdisciplines of anthropology
Despite an emphasis on certain perspectives, methods, and themes, anthropology remains exceptionally broad and has traditionally been divided into subdisciplines. The standard approach in the United States is the "four-field" model:
- Physical or biological anthropology involves any study of human physical nature, especially as related to human evolution. Retrospective objections to anthropology's long fascination with race fail to appreciate the contribution of this work to demonstrating the central role of cultural bias in common racial classifications and stereotypes.
- Cultural anthropology studies the customs, beliefs, values, social interactions, and physical products (the culture and society) of people known historically or ethnographically. Longstanding goals include studying traditional ways of life before they succumb to modernization, and discovering the fullest possible range of human practice. But it is not simply a matter of collecting exotic customs, nor is cultural anthropology limited to the study of "primitive" peoples. Cultural anthropology attempts to study the full variety of humanity. Also, because the cultural viewpoint of the anthropologist, not just that of the people being studied, is important, the richness of the field grows in part from the fact that there are trained anthropologists from many parts of the world. In the United Kingdom social anthropology, which gives particular emphasis to social relations and social structures, has been very influential from the early work of Malinowski, Firth, Radcliffe-Brown, Evans-Pritchard and Kuper through Rodney Needham, Mary Douglass and many others.
- Archaeology has origins in ancient history and the classics, biblical studies, and art history, as well as in the practice of collecting and its institutional cousin, the museum. Most broadly, archaeology is the study of the material remains of humans who lived in the past, and as such it is not always considered a branch of anthropology. Yet archaeologists will often ask anthropological questions, and many view their quest as a cultural anthropology of extinct peoples.
- Anthropological linguistics is the anthropological study of human languages, ancient and modern, oral and written. To the extent that an anthropological perspective on linguistics differs from the separate field of linguistics, it will emphasize communication as an element of culture and as a crucial development in human evolution. Archaeologist Colin Renfrew is using linguistics to aid in reconstructing human movements in the past. Language study is also central to work in cognitive evolution.
Anthropology and the science-religion dialogue
Anthropology is not clearly a science, as indicated by the importance of divergent perspectives or schools of thought (social evolutionism, functionalism, historical particularism, cultural materialism, structuralism). It is thus difficult for a scholar of religion to discover the anthropological understanding of a topic. For example, a biblical scholar who painstakingly applies the structuralist insights of Claude Levi-Strauss to a particular text may be surprised and disheartened when her work is ignored by anthropologists sympathetic to Christianity, simply because they are not sympathetic to structuralism.
Anthropology may have more to contribute through its rich body of ethnographic, linguistic, archaeological, and paleoanthropological literature, and through more widely accepted conceptual categories such as culture, holism, and cultural relativism. In some cases the anthropology-religion connection can be put to practical use. Kenneth Pike, Thomas Headland, and others with SIL International (formerly the Summer Institute of Linguistics), for example, are using anthropology to help ensure that translations of the Bible make sense in the local cultural context.
Perhaps most promising is the use of anthropological insights to address issues that grow from theology itself or from the science-religion dialogue. Such issues include sin, human destiny, consciousness, the environment, technology and religion, cognitive evolution, mind-body questions, and the fundamental nature of humanity. The opportunity for the science-religion dialogue to be conducted using questions drawn from theology rather than for theology to follow along and comment on science is potentially of great value.
A striving to understand what it is to be human is a central theme of both anthropology and theology, and systematic theologies often include a major section on the subject. The nineteenth-century Princeton theologian Charles Hodge gave the title Anthropology to the second volume of his three-volume Systematic Theology (1872), and he devoted some 730 pages to this subject and to salvation. Primary topics included the origins and nature of human beings, the soul, unity of the human race, original state, covenant of works, the fall, sin, and free agency. More than a century later the second volume of Wolfhart Pannenberg's Systematic Theology (1991) covers some of the same topics, though in different ways, in no small part because Pannenberg has given serious attention to the findings of academic anthropology, a field that did not exist when Hodge wrote Systematic Theology.
Pannenberg is a good model of serious theological engagement with anthropology without allowing the theological agenda to be overwhelmed. This is not an easy balance, for as F. LeRon Shults points out, theology has not come to grips with the changing view of humanity and human origins carefully constructed by anthropology (and evolutionary biology). It is possible for these topics to be explored philosophically, biblically, and in light of the history of theology, but without much contact with the growing anthropological understanding of what it is to be human. Shults, who is a leading expert on Pannenberg's thought, has himself made a major contribution to rethinking the fundamental theological doctrines of human nature, sin, and the image of God in light of anthropology.
Theologian J. Wentzel van Huyssteen is researching Paleolithic cognition to help understand the origins and nature of the human capacity for religion, a topic also being addressed by an interdisciplinary group of scholars organized by biologist William Hurlbut and anthropologist William Durhamat at Stanford University in California. Taking a somewhat different approach, theologian Philip Hefner is engaged in extensive exploration of the theological relevance of sociobiology and biocultural evolution. Hefner suggests that humans should be viewed as "created co-creators." And from a yet different perspective, population geneticist David Wilcox has written a series of articles exploring paleoanthropological findings from a traditionally evangelical, but not creationist, perspective.
Anthropologist Ward Goodenough, perhaps best known for his research on the people of Truk, has written a series of articles for Zygon on such subjects as the human capacity for belief. And the biological anthropologist and polymath Solomon Katz has contributed to the understanding of a great range of issues including religion and food, human purpose, and what it means to have a science of humanity. He has also developed and is now working out a model connecting religious change to subsistence change, arguing in particular that a change in religion was an enabler for the Neolithic adoption of agriculture.
See also ANTHROPOLOGY OF RELIGION; CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES; CREATIONISM; CULTURE, ORIGINS OF; EVOLUTION; EVOLUTION, BIOCULTURAL; FREEDOM; IMAGO DEI; MEMES; MIND-BODY THEORIES; SIN; SOCIOBIOLOGY; TECHNOLOGY
Blackmore, Susan. "The Meme's Eye View." In Darwinian Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science, ed. Robert Aunger. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Brown, Donald E. Human Universals. New York: Mc- Graw-Hill, 1991.
Cronk, Lee. That Complex Whole: Culture and the Evolution of Human Behavior. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999.
Evans-Pritchard, Edward E. The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1940. Freeman, Derek. Margaret Mead in Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983
Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973.
Goodenough, Ward H. "Evolution of the Human Capacity for Beliefs." Zygon 28, no. 1 (1993): 57
Harris, Marvin. The Rise of Anthropological Theory: A History of Theories of Culture, updated edition. Walnut Creek, Calif.: Altamira Press, 200
Hefner, Philip. The Human Factor: Evolution, Culture, and Religion. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1993
Hicks, David, and Gwynne, Margaret A. Cultural Anthropology, 2nd edition. New York: Harper, 1996
Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, vol. 2: Anthropology. New York: Scriber, 1872.
Kroeber, Alfred L. "The Superorganic." American Anthropologist 37 (1917): 53969.
Kuper, Adam. The Invention of Primitive Society: Transformations of an Illusion. London: Routledge, 1988
Mead, Margaret. Coming of Age in Samoa. New York: Morrow, 1928.
Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Anthropology in Theological Perspective, trans. Matthew J. O'Connell. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985
Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology, vol. 2, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1991.
Shults, F. LeRon. Reforming Theological Anthropology after the turn to Relationality. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdman, 2002.
Tylor, Edward Burnett. Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art, and Custom. London: Murray, 1871
Ward, Keith. Defending the Soul. Oxford: One World, 1992
Wilcox, David L. "Adam, Where are You? Changing Paradigms in Paleoanthropology." Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith 48, no. 2 (1996): 886.
PAUL K. WASON
Anthropology (World of Forensic Science)
Anthropology is the study of the behavior, origin, and physical and social development of humans. The term forensic refers to the gathering of scientific physical evidence for use in a court of law. Thus, forensic anthropology is the use of anthropology to gather and examine scientific evidence. Forensic anthropologists use a blend of sciences, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and anatomy to aid in the investigation of crimes.
One of the primary roles of a forensic anthropologist at a crime scene is to identify human remains. A forensic anthropologist uses scientific methods and technologies to answer key questions about the crime such as: how many victims are present? Who are they? When did they die? How did they die? Most of
The skull provides the most information for physical anthropologists. Craniosacral, or skull measurements (especially between the eye sockets and the jaw bone,) often help forensic anthropologists determine the race, age, and sex of a body. Forensic anthropologists can sometimes recreate the likeness of a person from skeletal measurements. Teeth can be compared to dental records as a means of identification. Holes, fissures, stains, and other abnormalities indicate trauma and may help to determine cause of death.
Forensic anthropologists also look at the size and shape of the pelvis, as well as signs of wear in the hip joint, to help determine the age and sex of remains. They can tell whether a broken bone happened before, during, or after death. Evidence of bones that were broken during childhood and later healed may help identify an adult body.
Forensic anthropologists may even be able to determine what kind of career a victim may have had by examining skeletal remains. Ridges that form where muscle tissue attaches to bone indicate that a person's job required physical labor. Ridges may also indicate if a person was right or left handed. Looking at microscopic lines in bone fragments yields clues about the overall health of person before death.
Often, physical anthropologists must work with badly decomposed, charred, or damaged remains instead of well-preserved, whole skeletons. When working with fragments, forensic anthropologists employ technologies such as CAT scans and x rays. They may attempt to gather DNA evidence to identify remains.
Forensic anthropology is not only used to investigate present-day crimes, but is also applied to examine historical events. For example, forensic anthropologists have played a significant role in identifying the remains of wartime military personnel, even decades after the event. This type of forensic anthropology is sometimes referred to as forensic archaeology.
SEE ALSO Ancient cases and mysteries; Anthropometry; Archaeology; Careers in forensic science; DNA mixtures, forensic interpretation of mass graves; Identification of war victims in Croatia and Bosnia; War forensics.