Rex has just published another intriguing post, Human nature: it's not what you think. This takes off from a long post by Greg Downey at Neuroanthropology, a consistently innovative and stimulating blog, on the urgent need to brand anthropology. Greg takes his lead in turn from an article in American Anthropologist last year by my old friend, Ulf Hannerz, 'Diversity is our business'. I find all this activity very encouraging, so I do not apologize for revisiting in this context a theme which has already been featured at the OAC recently, the question of human nature. See here and here.

So I posted a comment on Rex's piece which I reproduce here in the hope that it might draw your attention to these other discussions and perhaps launch another phase of our own.


It’s great that Savage Minds is sticking with the theme of what anthropology is all about and the return to human nature as our discipline’s object is particularly gratifying to me.

I have long preferred to bypass the 19th century as the immediate source of modern anthropology in order to concentrate on its roots in the 18th century, in the liberal revolution as promoted by Rousseau and Kant. After all, the basic structure of Morgan’s argument comes straight from the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality among Men and Kant’s Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View was a best-seller aimed at the general public as well as the first systematic account of our discipline.

The liberal Enlightenment invented anthropology as a means towards a democratic revolution against the Old Regime. They conceived of existing society as being founded on arbitrary social distinctions and studied human nature in order to base an equal society on what all people share. Hence the term ‘natural rights’ was the precursor of human rights today.

The word ‘nature’ has changed a lot since then. For us it implies biology and stands opposed to culture. But for Rousseau or Goethe, nature meant that which has become, has finished becoming and can no longer change or be changed (the main property of life).

I am struck by the fact that Ulf, Greg and Rex all want to brand anthropology as the study of diversity. Difference as a slogan is so 20th century. We wouldn’t be interested in other people unless they were different, but we couldn’t study them unless they were the same. So surely we have to put some effort into identifying what human beings have in common?

If anthropologists don’t want to contribute to the formation of world society, harping only on a retro preoccupation with human difference, who else will? Whatever human nature is not, there should be some mileage in discovering what it is. Our brand should be sameness in difference or the other way round.

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Luhrmann, Biehl, Good, Kleinman, Ortner, Csordas, Quinn, Turner (Victor& Edith), Bourguignon,etc. - "they dont have much practical value nowadays"??? I think once you approach a particular problem, an applied one (like in my case "prayer & health") you become like a detective, trying to find conceptual clues anywhere you can in order to explain some experiential data...but what do I know, I don't have a degree in antho... 

Frank Broszeit said:

I dont't know if that was what you're looking for...

but I don't think there's some kind of "role model" out there and no one - execpt people with mental disorder - would say I wan't to become like this Anthropologist.


If you're just content with a reading list then you may get names like Csordas, Joralemon, Paul Farmer, Aihwa Ong for some topics on Medical Anthropology or Miller, Slater, Horst, Postill for Media Anthropology, Marcus Banks, etc. for Visual Anth. Eriksen's Introduction book is a must read, some text's from Hannerz are out there too. Economic Anthr. would be like James Carrier's commanding handbook. Then you have some local language articles like Regina Bendix, Chris Hann, Eva Kalny, etc. Geertz is really out and dead, Mead too. They might be quoted here and there but just for metaphors or something like that but they dont have much practical value nowadays.


It might change when your going for the PhD but there's hardly any contact between PhD's & BA's/MA's or between doing science & BA's/MA's. Im arguing out of a "student position" so I don't take into account what might be "hot" there. But snince there's no longer a grand theory it's getting difficult to find such a thing.

Adrian, would you please redo that list of names by providing the full names and a suggestion of which of the works you'd recommend? Namedropping alone doesn't do much for anyone unless you can assume that you are preaching to a choir. Here you certainly aren't.

to Frank: sorry, I misunderstood your words.I agree with your clarifications.

to John: a google search might provide some of those pdf files


Turner, E. (2006). Advances in the Study of Spirit Experience: Drawing Together Many Threads. Anthropology of Consciousness, 17, 33 – 61.

Strauss, C. (2006). The Imaginary. Anthropological Theory, 6, 323-345

Quinn, N. (2006). The self. Anthropological Theory, 6, 365-387.

Quinn, N. (2005). Universals of Child Rearing. Anthropological Theory, 5, 477–516.

Ortner, S. (2005). Subjectivity and Cultural Critique. Anthropological Theory, 5, 31-52

Luhrmann, T.M. (2004). Metakinesis: How God Becomes Intimate in Contemporary U.S. Christianity. American Anthropologist, 106, 518 –528.

 Luhrmann, T.M. (2005). The art of hearing God: Absorption, dissociation, and contemporary American spirituality. Spiritus, 5, 133-157.

 Luhrmann, T. M., Nusbaum, H., & Thisted, R. (2010). The Absorption Hypothesis: learning to hear God in Evangelical Christianity. American Anthropologist, 112, 66–78.

Good, B.J. (2010). Theorizing the ‘Subject’ of Medical and Psychiatric Anthropology.

R. R. Marett Memorial Lecture, delivered at Exeter College, Oxford University.

Csordas, T.J. & Lewton, E. (1998). Practice, Performance, and Experience in Ritual Healing. Transcultural Psychiatry, 35, 435 – 512. 

 Csordas, T.J. (2004). Asymptote of the Ineffable: Embodiment, Alterity, and the Theory of Religion. Current Anthropology, 45, 163–185.

 Csordas, T.J. (2008). Intersubjectivity and intercorporeality. Subjectivity, 22, 110-121.

Bourguignon, E. (2003). Faith, Healing, and “Ecstasy Deprivation”: Secular Society in a New Age of Anxiety. Anthropology of Consciousness, 14, 1-19.


Adrian, thank you very much. I ordered Csordas' latest book last night. Should reach me here in Japan within a few days. I am also currently up to my neck in the work that provides my livelihood; so it may be a while before I reply in a more informed manner.


Thank you again,



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