Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


[Response to Murk]
James 0. Buswell, III
Shelton College
Ringwood, New Jersey

From: JASA 6 (June 1954): 23-24.

Mr. Murk's reactions to my remarks on British anthropology were indeed welcome, and it i; an added pleasure to become acquainted through correspondence at least, with another Christian anthropologist. The opportunity to discuss problems with another Christian in our field is perhaps rarer than in some others. While the subjects in Mr Murk's letter will be taken up at more length in future installments of the "Reading Course", I am grateful for this invitation to offer a few comments in reply.

I am very sorry to have overlooked the text by Dr. Wallis in the discussion of introductory texts. While it was mentioned in the following issue, only brief reference was made to it because of its date (1926). It was a very worthwhile text indeed for that day.

There are two points in Mr. Murk's comments with which I cannot fully agree. First of all, I do not think the fact that "we do have many linguists who are not anthropologists" is justification enough to say that "Linguistics is usually the only field separated from anthropology as a whole in America." Only in a limited historical, or comparative philological sense is this true. The rapidly growing number of ethnolinguistic studies, and the increasing reliance upon linguistic data by American ethnologists is proof that such a claim must be more carefully qualified.1

Secondly, I cannot agree that the differences between American and British anthropology are only matters of emphasis. Also, Mr. Murk's use of the term "comparative sociology" is unfortunate. Almost countless references could be cited from current and recent literature on both sides of the Atlantic showing that the British social anthropologists are admittedly interested in sociological rather than strictly cultural analysis in the American sense. One can hardly read the reviews of the British texts listed in the footnote which Mr. Murk refers to without being repeatedly impressed by the fundamental sociological orientation, with the consequent theoretical differences which characterize British social anthropology as a rather distinct school".

For instance, John Gillin says that "Nadel seems to be unaware ... of a great deal of American theoretical work in culture of the past ten years."2 Sol Tax says that Evans-Pritchard "seems to be disinterested in, if not against, what he calls ethnology, which is clearly associated with the study of culture. . ."3 And Hoebel says of Piddington, that "internal evidence indicates that the author has limited his own reading in large measure to the products of his own school. He seems actually to be unaware of a considerable number of truly significant studies done by Europeans and Americans. What he has ~read of the works of anthropologists in this country is, with few exceptions, obsolete."

These statements, indicating a certain -,degree of provinciality outside of the "American cultural perspective", only give an inkling of the fundamental differences which could be further elaborated.

However, I must hasten to agree with Mr. Murk on the great practicality of British anthropology which it has gained from a heritage of colonialism. The necessity of focusing upon such problems has indeed highlighted many which are common to the missionary effort and colonial administration alike. Both are agents of acculturation-planned acculturation. Both have been operating, for example, in Africa side by side for three or four generations. Both are attempting to replace a part of native culture with something of their own. It is, therefore, common knowledge that British anthropology takes a characteristically different view of the missionary role than is traditionally taken b-, American anthropologists, who have been more prone to think of the missionary in the same category as the American population at large thinks of Imperialism.

Consequently Mr. Murk is correct in urging the use of British texts for Christians who are interested in an effective and practical approach. Similarly American texts, when they discuss field methods, turn almost invariably to Malinowski. With respect to Piddington, however, particularly in view of the number of shortcomings brought up by Hoebel in his review, I believe we can do better in selecting a book which has a broader scope than the functionalism of Malinowski. There are American texts which are so far superior to Piddington's in many other ways, that their overall value for missionary training surpasses Piddington despite his friendly attitude toward missionaries.

May 4, 1954


1. 1 have dealt more fully with this subject in an unpublished paper filed at the University of Pennsylvania library, entitled An Introduction to Ethnolinguistics.

2 Gillin, John. Review of The Foundations of Social Anthropology, by S. F. Nadel. Anterican Anthropologist, Vol. 54, No. 1, (1952), p. 75.

3. Tax, Sol. Review of Social Anthropology, by E. E. Evans-Pritchard. American Anthropologist, Vol. 54, No. 3, (1952), p. 389.

4. Hoebel, E. A. Review of An Introduction to Social Anthropology, Vol. 1, by Ralph Piddington. American Anthropologist, Vol. 53, No. 2, (1951), p. 247.