Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


[on British Anthropology]
James M. Murk
Bob Jones University, Greenville, South Carolina

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


I enjoyed very much reading Professor Buswell's short bibliographical analysis of texts in anthropology and am looking forward to his continued contributions. With the little experience teaching the subject I have had, I must heartily concur that introductory anthropology courses must be reading courses, there being no one satisfactory textbook. I might ask, however, of what course in the social sciences is this not true if one is to have a well-grounded knowledge of any one of them. Of anthropology, however, it is especially true because of the attempted "all inclusiveness" of the discipline purporting to study all about man. It takes an "encyclopedist" to be an expert in the whole field.

There is a tendency in some education circles therefore (notably the British) to divide anthropology into at least four separate and mutually exclusive disciples: for example, linguistics, physical anthropology (including both human evolution and living races), ethnology (which is termed social anthropology in Britain), and cultural anthropology. Linguistics is usually the only field separated from anthropology as a whole in America. I don't mean to imply that language and culture are not thought of by anthropologists as inseparably intertwined, but we do have many linguists who are not anthropologists. On the other hand, we have hybrid studies like meta-linguistics. It is felt perhaps that man cannot be parceled out piecemeal into separate packages but must be studied as a whole being. Note how more and more in America the social sciences are being studied together particularly sociology, psychology and anthropology.

I do not think, however, that we can imply that there is a distinct American school of anthropology as opposed, for example, to a British or European school as might be implied by Professor Buswell's statement that there are "fundamental differences between the viewpoint of British social anthropology and the American cultural perspective." It -seems rather that we have all borrowed from each other and that there are several emphases on both sides of the Atlantic. If British 14 social anthropologists" are unwilling to plunge head first into the uncertain methodological waters of a comparative sociology, it is not so much that they disagree with many Americanisms, such as trait, complex, configuration, theme, etc., but that they shy away from the over-optimism with which they are applied. The British furthermore .. being "colony conscious" lay a greater stress on the application of anthropology to colonial and social problems. This might be expected from the nature of their needs. I think that the British were the first to demand that their colonial administrators have anthropological training. For this reason, I believe they tend on the whole to be more practical and less theoretical, although, of course, they have their share of arm-chair scientists.

This practical approach finally ought to appeal to us who are Christian teachers whose courses are geared for training Christian workers, especially missionaries. In this light I have found Ralph Piddington's An Introduction to Social, Anthropology (Praeger, 1950) a very helpful text to ground students in the general technique of description in the second semestc'r of the sequence in anthropology. This is, of course, supplemented with ample outside work. To emphasize what I mean by practical approach note the following from page 10 of Piddington's introductory chapter. Dealing briefly with culture contact he writes,

"This not only involves problems of considerable theoretical interest, but is also vital to the problems of missionaries, officers in the Colonial Service, and others whose work brings them into direct contact with native peoples. For these, insight into the working of primitive society is of the greatest importance; here, as always, the coordination of science and practical affairs is essential to each. Anthropology can derive incalculable benefit from the specialist knowledge of administrators experienced in the native government, from missionaries who have gained the trust and affection of the people, and from experts in agriculture, forestry and nutrition, just as these specialists require a knowledge of native political and legal institutions, religious life and systems of land tenure, economics and diet."

This is a more friendly attitude toward both applied anthropology and the missionary than I have found among American anthropologists as a whole. I wish Professor Buswell would have denied his slight American prejudice and would have included in the main body of his study the books which he relegates to the footnotes.

Finally I note at least one omission in his listing of general texts which at least for me is significant, and here I may find my own prejudice hard to disguise. Wilson Wallis, my teacher and the head of the department of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, published a text many years ago (Harper and Brothers) with the title which was not in that early day trite: namely, An Introduction to Anthropology. Dr. Wallis was a Rhodes scholar and indirectly at least sat at the feet of Tylor. R. R. Marrett, Tylor's outstanding pupil, was his teacher. I'm not certain off -hand of the date of this text's publication, but it was one of the very earliest in the field.

March 8, 1954