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Answers and Questions: Evans-Pritchard On Nuer Religion

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If my discernment of the thought that underlies his study of Nuer religion is not entirely misconstrued, then one can assert a logical consistency between Collingwood's methodology for history and Evans-Pritchard's for ethnography. It is worthwhile, in that light, to consider the fact that "at one time Evans-Pritchard contemplated writing Collingwood's biography" (Beidelman 1974:559). One commentator, (Kuper 1980:118) typifies this methodology as "postwar idealism" and suggests that the major works he published in the later decades of his presence at Oxford demonstrate the "sterility" of his methodology and theory. Still others have hinted that his entry into the Catholic Church was later reflected in his depiction of Nuer religous life. These are remarkable assertions, when one takes the time to reflect on the many ways in which his own approach and writings have so profoundly influenced the direction of anthropological enquiry in his own country and abroad. The fact is, one can no longer write ethnography in lieu of a solid understanding of the historical circumstances which have resulted in the contemporary 'ethnographic present'. At the same time, practitioners of the discipline have addressed from almost every angle the proposition that all ethnography is indeed a good part confession-that we write what we are able to see. That is precisely the quality of the work that will guarantee the status of Nuer religion as a classic. The methods of history and anthropology can only become more similar. Anyone who holds an absence of definition or presumed repugnance toward theory as criticisms of his contributions, has truly lost the forest for the trees. It is all the more remarkable that his methodological and theoretical advances in the anthropological study of religion are to be found not in his answers, but in the questions he raised.10

Affiliations: 1: Connecticut College, New London, CT. USA


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