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Who owns 'culture'?1

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

No one owns the concept 'culture'. Anthropology's long-standing proprietary claim on the concept rests on three sorts of contentions - none of which are convincing. Anthropology's overwhelmingly interpretive approaches to cultural materials have led to a preoccupation with the details of cultural materials at the expense of formulating explanatory theories. This has, among other things, rendered fieldwork experience sufficient for professional credentials. However, if the details are all that matter, then comparative and cross-cultural research, as well as most of the social sciences, make no sense. Contrary to this view, it is proposed here that theories reveal which details matter. Cognitive accounts of the sort we advanced in Rethinking Religion (1990) offer a firm theoretical basis for cross-cultural study of religious materials. Other types of research concerning non-human primates, early childhood development, and various social and cognitive impairments also offer insight into culture (without relying on fieldwork studies).

Affiliations: 1: Emory University; 2: Western Michigan University


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