Sir E. E. Evans-Pritchard
E. E. Evans-Pritchard
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
21 September 1902
|Died||11 September 1973 (aged 70)|
|Known for||Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande|
|Notable students||M. N. Srinivas|
John Francis Marchment Middleton
Sir Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard, FBA (21 September 1902 – 11 September 1973), known as E. E. Evans-Pritchard, was an English anthropologist who was instrumental in the development of social anthropology. He was Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford from 1946 to 1970.
Evans-Pritchard was educated at Winchester College and studied history at Exeter College, Oxford, where he was influenced by R. R. Marett, and then as a postgraduate at the London School of Economics (LSE). At Oxford he was part of the Hypocrites' Club. At LSE he came under the influence of Bronisław Malinowski and especially Charles Gabriel Seligman, the founding ethnographer of the Sudan. His first fieldwork began in 1926 with the Azande, a 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 and Bongo land until 1930, when he began a 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 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 A. R. Radcliffe-Brown. Evans-Pritchard began developing Radcliffe-Brown's program of structural-functionalism. As a result, his trilogy of works on the Nuer (The Nuer, Nuer Religion, and Kinship and Marriage Among the Nuer) and the volume he coedited entitled African Political Systems came to be seen as classics of British social anthropology. Evans-Pritchard's Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande is the first major anthropological contribution to the sociology of knowledge through its neutral — some would say "relativist" — stance on the "correctness" of Zande beliefs about causation. His work focused in on a known psychological effect known as psychological attribution. Evans-Pritchard recorded the tendencies of Azandes to blame or attribute witchcraft as the cause of various mis-happenings. The most notable of these issues involved the deaths of eight Azande people due to the collapse of a termite infested door frame. Evans-Pritchard's empirical work in this vein became well-known through philosophy of science and "rationality" debates of the 1960s and 1970s involving Thomas Kuhn and especially Paul Feyerabend.
During the Second World War Evans-Pritchard served in Ethiopia, Libya, Sudan, and Syria. In Sudan he raised irregular troops among the Anuak to harass the Italians and engaged in guerrilla warfare. 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 few English-language authors to write about the tariqa.
After a brief stint in Cambridge, Evans-Pritchard became professor of social anthropology at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College. He remained at All Souls College for the rest of his career. Among the doctoral students he advised was the late M. N. Srinivas, the doyen among India's sociologists who coined some of the key concepts in Indian sociological discourse, including "Sanskritization", "dominant caste" and "vote bank." One of his students was Talal Asad, who now teaches at the City University of New York. Mary Douglas's classic Purity and Danger on pollutions and uncertainty — what we often denote as 'risk' — was fundamentally influenced by Evans-Pritchard's views on how accusations, blame and responsibility are deployed though culturally specific conceptions of misfortune and harm.
Evans-Pritchard's 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, especially history. 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 what at the time were called "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 quicker 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.
Known to his friends and family as "EP", Evans-Pritchard had five children with his wife Ioma. His daughter Deirdre Evans-Pritchard is Executive Director of the DC Independent Film Festival and consults in the fields of cultural heritage, tourism, media and the arts. His youngest son, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, is a former foreign correspondent in Latin America, the US, and Europe, and became International Business Editor for the London Daily Telegraph.
Evans-Pritchard died in Oxford on 11 September 1973.
A Rivers Memorial Medal recipient (1937) and of the Huxley Memorial Medal (1963) he was President of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland from 1949-51. Evans-Pritchard was knighted in 1971. In 1972, a Festschrift was prepared for him, entitled Essays in Sudan Ethnography: presented to Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard.
Eleusine, used in Amatangi magic, drying by a small tree. Photo by Evans-Pritchard