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Not ‘To Study or Not to Study,’ But How?

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  1. Introduction
  2. Jonathan Z. Smith: Religion is solely the creation of the scholar's study
  3. Solving the problem of ambiguous classifications
  4. Claude Levi Strauss' views on anthropology
    1. A method of finding 'the unshakable basis of human society'
    2. The need to study the most basic and primitive
  5. Geertz criticizm of Levi Strauss' method
  6. This inability to fully understand one culture
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

To highlight what constitutes the foundation of Man, anthropologists, ethnographers, and theologians like Jonathan Smith, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Clifford Geertz constantly study ?savage? societies, societies very different from our own. Scholars endlessly debate which characteristics all people possess and try to find a definition of religion that holds true for all societies and all religions, yet they never seem to consider the large discrepancies in research methods.

[...] It annuls history, reduces sentiment to a shadow of the intellect, and replaces the particular minds of particular savages in particular jungles with the Savage Mind immanent in us all.?[40] This vast and complicated system for understanding people he doesn't understand stems from Lévi-Strauss's search for Man, instead of and allows Lévi-Strauss to side-step his failure to gain ?intellectual closeness and physical distance.?[42] Geertz suggests that anthropologists should get to know and understand their research subjects by employing ?epistemological empathy?[43] rather than trying to determine the ?true meaning of Man.? bridge between our world and that of our subjects (extinct, opaque, or merely tattered) lies not in personal confrontation--which, so far as it occurs, corrupts both them and us. [...]


[...] A synthesis of Smith, Lévi-Strauss and Geertz's ideas regarding how to study cultures shows that good anthropological research must study and compare several different cultures, involve at least some first-hand objective documentation, and involve full understanding of the people on the anthropologist's part. Only one solution grants anthropologists this kind of depth, breadth, and understanding: a collaboration of anthropologists studying their own cultures, or living among other cultures for extended lengths of time to assimilate into them (the former is preferable). [...]


[...] To best study societies, Lévi-Strauss also feels the need to study the most basic and primitive, to ?reach the extreme limits of the savage.?[23] However, when he finally finds the Mundé, a previously unseen society deep in the South American rainforest, he not know their language [and] could not understand them.?[24] This proved a huge dilemma for Lévi- Strauss, because he could not understand the most primitive and savage societies, which hold the key to finding unshakable basis of human society?[25] because they remain in the Neolithic stage revered by Lévi- Strauss and Rousseau as being man's most successful stage. [...]

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