Segments in this Video

Adopting Strange Beliefs (01:18)


British anthropologist Edward Evans-Pritchard wrote that he came to accept Azande notions of witchcraft, though in his own culture he rejects them. His education and background are summarized.

Evans-Pritchard's Approach (01:26)

Evans-Pritchard's anthropology produced a better understanding of apparently irrational behavior and ideas. While anthropology saw itself as a science, studying institutions, he focused on mental lives of cultures.

Anthropology of Evans-Pritchard's Era (02:19)

Anthropologists preferred to go to their own countries' colonies. Evans-Pritchard's generation of anthropologists sought to share the lives of other cultures, learning mundane details of life.

Studying Azande (01:42)

Evans-Pritchard studied the remote Azande, who live in homesteads in parts of Zaire and Sudan. Getting to his destination took weeks. He built a house like theirs and lived among them.

Search for Azande Belief System (02:46)

Evans-Pritchard searched for a coherent Azande belief system rather than just facts about them. Most Europeans dismissed "primitive" minds, but Evans-Pritchard realized their beliefs resulted from different assumptions, not bad logic.

Understanding Belief in Witchcraft (02:09)

For Evans-Pritchard, the mystery of death helps us understand Azande belief in witchcraft. We watch a contemporary Azande mourning a young woman, believed to be bewitched.

Oracles (03:00)

Azande who suspect that witchcraft is being used against them use oracles such as rubbing boards to find out who was responsible and what can be done. We watch contemporary Azande engaged in the practice.

Hierarchy of Oracles (02:04)

Azande have a hierarchy of oracles. A husband whose mother is ill consults the poisons oracle and perform a ritual. He learns that with the right magic, he can keep his mother alive.

Witchdoctors (02:46)

The witchdoctor is responsible for combating witchcraft. Witches do harm by possessing inherent qualities rather than through active spells. Oracles and magic help predict and fight witchcraft.

Witchcraft and Irrationality (01:50)

Evans-Pritchard's findings raised questions of what rationality is in any culture. Witchcraft is one way irrationality is channeled and managed. Before he anchored religious belief in social life, there was no real study of African religions.

Respecting and Adopting Beliefs (00:49)

Evans-Pritchard ran his affairs according to Azande beliefs in witchcraft. "One ends in believing as one acts," he wrote.

Move to Egypt and Theory of Anthropology. (02:19)

Blacklisted in Britain by a powerful professor, Evans-Pritchard took a job in Egypt. He took up the history of human thought, seeking to build anthropology on the work of philosophers and historians rather than on the work of social theorists.

Evans-Pritchard in Egypt (02:30)

A student recalls Evans-Pritchard facing down student demonstrators in Egypt. He journeyed into the desert to study Islamic culture, sometimes making his way back to the Azande.

Sent to Study Nuer (02:30)

Colonial administrators sought Evans-Pritchard's help, asking him to do work on Sudan's troublesome, warlike Nuer.

Life Among Nuer (01:28)

In an audio recording, Evans-Pritchard describes how the Nuer took him in as a guest and gradually accepted him.

Observations on Nuer (01:03)

According to Evans-Pritchard, the Nuer are easily roused to violence, but they respect each other as equals. They have contempt for all other peoples.

Cattle and Nuer Culture (02:09)

Evans-Pritchard emphasized how cattle-herding shapes Nuer culture. The Nuer enjoy their cattle in an intellectual and emotional way, singing songs to them, telling stories about them, and using them to form social links.

Becoming a Man (03:17)

Most Nuer compose songs that they sing at festivals or to themselves in the pastures among their cattle. A Nuer is interviewed about the songs boys sing to impress the girls, and the forehead mark that is the male rite of passage.

Nuer Ordered Anarchy (01:12)

Evans-Pritchard found no easily recognizable form of government, but rather "ordered anarchy" among the Nuer. Those the British classified as chiefs were really spiritual experts, such as arbitrators without authority to use force.

Challenging the Status Quo of Wisdom (01:16)

Evans-Pritchard's work on the Nuer challenged the view of African political societies of slaves ruled by a chief--an assumption the British administrators made.

Continuities in Nuer Culture (01:24)

A Nuer descendent from those Evans-Pritchard studied is researching the anthropologist's work. While a few Nuer have urbanized, the culture of the rural majority is similar in many ways to what Evans-Pritchard described, he says.

War Effort (02:35)

In WWII, Evans-Pritchard joined the Sudan Auxiliary Defense Forces, commanding guerrillas who inflicted damage on the Italians. Sent to Libya, he wrote "Sanusi of Cyrenaica" on Bedouin tribal structure.

Influence of Anthropology (01:52)

Under Evans-Pritchard, Oxford became a center for anthropology. Anthropology influenced colonial attitudes as colonies sought independence. Evans-Pritchard helped make anthropology influential on other disciplines.

Anthropology as Translation, Not Scientific Analysis (02:15)

Evans-Pritchard shifted authority from the scientific anthropologist to the native, so that the object of study became the authority on itself. Evans-Pritchard contributed to anthropology's progress by abandoning the quest for universal laws of human behavior. The anthropologist becomes an interpreter, not a scientist.

Reasons for Studying Other Cultures (02:14)

Anthropologists study the benefits of human social life by visiting remote cultures where it is easier for them to be objective. Remote societies tend to be isolated, making comprehensive study easier.

Credits: Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard: Strange Beliefs (01:13)

Credits: Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard: Strange Beliefs

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Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard: Strange Beliefs

Part of the Series : Strangers Abroad
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Edward Evans-Pritchard was the first trained anthropologist to do work in Africa, where he lived among the Azande and studied their belief in witchcraft. Later, he worked with the Nuer tribe in the Sudan. His work on witchcraft caused philosophers to ask how rational thinking could be defined; his study of tribal organization intrigued political theorists; his attention to the sophisticated religious sentiments of so-called primitive peoples has strongly influenced theologians. (52 minutes)

Length: 53 minutes

Item#: BVL2546

ISBN: 978-1-4213-9369-8

Copyright date: ©1990

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