Thursday, October 11, 2007

Edward Tylor

Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, an English Anthropologist (1832 - 1917). In 1883, Tylor became the head of the University Museum at Oxford and was a Professor of Anthropology from 1896 until 1909. Published in 1881, Tylor’s first book, Anthropology, is still considered to be modern in its cultural concepts and theories.

Tylor was not particularly interested in fieldwork. He derived most of the material for his comparative studies through extensive readings of Classical materials (literature and history of Greece and Rome), the work of the early European folklorists, and reports from missionaries, travelers, and contemporaneous ethnologists.
Tylor is considered representative of cultural evolutionism, based on the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin. Tylor generally seemed to assume a Victorian idea of progress rather than the idea of non-directional, multilineal cultural development proposed by later anthropologists. He believed that there was a functional basis for the development of society and religion, which he determined was universal. He reintroduced the term animism (the faith in the individual soul or anima of all things) into common use. He considered animism as the first phase of development of religions.

Tylor formulated one of the early and influential anthropological conceptions of culture as "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."

He formulated also the classical conception of myth as an explanation of the world.
“For Tylor, myth is an account of events in the physical world. Myth is more important than ritual, which is the application, not the subject, of myth. Myth constitutes creed, which is merely expressed in the form of a story. For Tylor, myth serves the same function as science. Indeed, myth is the ancient and primitive counterpart to modern science.” (Robert A. Segal. 1998. Introduction to the The Myth and Ritual Theory, an anthology, edited by Robert A. Segal.)

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