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Anthropological approaches to the understanding of witchcraft and sorcery : an historical and critical study with special reference to the work of E.E. Evans-Pritchard and Clyde Kluckhohn.

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Title: Anthropological approaches to the understanding of witchcraft and sorcery : an historical and critical study with special reference to the work of E.E. Evans-Pritchard and Clyde Kluckhohn.
Author: Campbell, Alastair Fraser
Degree: Master of Arts - MA
Program: Anthropology
Copyright Date: 1973
Subject Keywords Evans-Pritchard, E.E. (Edward Evan) -- 1902-1973;Kluckhohn, Clyde -- 1905-1960;Witchcraft
Issue Date: 2011-03-24
Publisher University of British Columbia
Series/Report no. UBC Retrospective Theses Digitization Project [http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/retro_theses/]
Abstract: Attempts to establish cross-culturally valid definitions of witchcraft, sorcery and destructive magic are misleading, since these phenomena do not constitute true classes, but bear only a family resemblance to each other. Moreover, the attempt to establish such definitions violates the integrity of native categories of thought, and thus obscures the understanding of the way in which thought is manifested in actions taken in specific behavioural contexts. The understanding of native categories of thought, and of the way in which these are translated into overt behaviour in specific contexts of action, is conditioned by our prior experience as the members of a particular culture and social system. Our culturally acquired notions of the nature of human society, and of reality more generally, enter into our perception of the characteristics of primitive societies. Particularly difficult for us, coming from a culture in which our notions of rationality are deeply influenced by the subject matter and methods of the natural sciences, is the understanding of behaviour associated with ideas of magic and witchcraft. A review of the history of anthropological theory indicates a wide variety in approaches towards the understanding of these phenomena. Thus magic and witchcraft have been variously interpreted as historical survivals from an earlier phase of human social evolution, as manifestations of a particular mentality peculiar to primitives, as an affective response to situations of anxiety, as a mechanism providing for the release of tensions consequent upon life in society, and as a cosmology in terms of which natural and social relationships are ordered. The scope of such interpretations has ranged from generalizations made on the basis of a wide range of phenomena, and aiming at cross-cultural validity, to interpretations of a restricted set of data from only one culture. It is with interpretations of the latter type that witchcraft and sorcery become subjects of study in their own right, instead of being subsumed under some theory purporting to hold true for the entire domain of magic and religion, or even primitive mentality as such. Tylor, Frazer and Ĺévy-Bruhl may all be regarded as having offered theories of general applicability, in contrast to Kluckhohn and Evans-Pritchard. (Malinowski stands as an intermediate figure in this respect). But while, from this point of view, Kluckhohn and Evans-Pritchard may be grouped together, their work may nevertheless be contrasted in other respects. Thus, Evans-Pritchard emphasizes the logical coherence and rationality of Zande witchcraft, of which he tries to present the sense, and which he analyses within the framework of a sociologistic and structuralist approach. Kluckhohn, on the other hand, presents Navaho witchcraft as essentially irrational, and as standing in need of an explanation which he provides in terms of a psychologistic and functionalist theory. Implicit in these anthropological approaches are definite assumptions about the nature of Western science, on the basis of which a number of oppositions have been posed between scientific thought and beliefs of a magico-religious order. An examination of the nature of scientific activity suggests that most of these assumptions are mistaken. By focusing upon the content of scientific thought, and the imagined psychology of the individual scientist, anthropologists have overlooked the structural similarities between scientific beliefs and activities, and the beliefs and activities characteristic of magic and witchcraft. As a result, they have failed to understand the most important determining characteristic of each - the social context in which such thought operates.
Affiliation: Arts, Faculty of
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/32848
Scholarly Level: Graduate

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