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E. E. Evans-Pritchard

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Sir E. E. Evans-Pritchard
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard

(1902-09-21)21 September 1902
Died11 September 1973(1973-09-11) (aged 70)
Oxford, England
Known forEvans-Pritchard's theories of religion
Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande
ChildrenAmbrose Evans-Pritchard
Scientific career
ThesisThe social organization of the Azande of the Bahr-el-Ghazal province of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (1928)
Notable studentsM. N. Srinivas
Talal Asad
Mary Douglas
Audrey Colson
John Francis Marchment Middleton
Steven Lukes
André Singer
E. E. Evans-Pritchard with a group of Zande boys in Sudan. Picture taken in the period 1926–1930

Sir Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard FBA FRAI (21 September 1902 – 11 September 1973) was an English anthropologist who was instrumental in the development of social anthropology. He was Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford from 1946 to 1970.

Education and field work


Evans-Pritchard was educated at Winchester College and studied history at Exeter College, Oxford, where he was influenced by R. R. Marett, and then as a postgraduate at the London School of Economics (LSE). His doctoral thesis (1928) was titled "The social organization of the Azande of the Bahr-el-Ghazal province of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan".[1]

At Oxford, he was part of the Hypocrites' Club.[2] At LSE, he came under the influence of Bronisław Malinowski and especially Charles Gabriel Seligman, the founding ethnographer of the Sudan. His first fieldwork began in 1926 with the Azande, a people of the upper Nile, and resulted in both a doctorate (in 1927) and his classic Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande (1937). Evans-Pritchard continued to lecture at the LSE and conduct research in Azande and Bongo[3] land until 1930, when he began a new research project among the Nuer.[4]

This work coincided with his appointment to the University of Cairo in 1932, where he gave a series of lectures on religion that bore Seligman's influence. After his return to Oxford, he continued his research on Nuer. It was during this period that he first met Meyer Fortes and A. R. Radcliffe-Brown. Evans-Pritchard began developing Radcliffe-Brown's program of structural-functionalism. As a result, his trilogy of works on the Nuer (The Nuer (1940), Kinship and Marriage Among the Nuer (1951), and Nuer Religion (1956)) and the volume he coedited with Meyer Fortes entitled African Political Systems (1940) came to be seen as classics of British social anthropology. Evans-Pritchard's Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande is the first major anthropological contribution to the sociology of knowledge through its neutral — some would say "relativist" — stance on the "correctness" of Zande beliefs about causation. His work focused in on a known psychological effect known as psychological attribution. Evans-Pritchard recorded the tendencies of Azandes to blame or attribute witchcraft as the cause of various mis-happenings. The most notable of these issues involved the deaths of eight Azande people due to the collapse of a termite infested door frame. Evans-Pritchard's empirical work in this vein became well known through philosophy of science and "rationality" debates of the 1960s and 1970s involving Thomas Kuhn and especially Paul Feyerabend.

During the Second World War Evans-Pritchard served in Ethiopia, Libya, Sudan, and Syria. In Sudan he raised irregular troops among the Anuak to harass the Italians and engaged in guerrilla warfare. In 1942, he was posted to the British Military Administration of Cyrenaica in North Africa, and it was on the basis of his experience there that he produced The Sanusi of Cyrenaica.[4] In documenting local resistance to Italian conquest, he became one of a few English-language authors to write about the tariqa.

After a brief stint in Cambridge, Evans-Pritchard became professor of social anthropology at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College. He remained at All Souls College for the rest of his career. Among the doctoral students he advised was the late M. N. Srinivas, the doyen among India's sociologists who coined some of the key concepts in Indian sociological discourse, including "Sanskritization", "dominant caste" and "vote bank." One of his students was Talal Asad, who now teaches at the City University of New York. Mary Douglas's classic Purity and Danger on pollutions and uncertainty — what we often denote as 'risk' — was fundamentally influenced by Evans-Pritchard's views on how accusations, blame and responsibility are deployed though culturally specific conceptions of misfortune and harm.

Later theories


Evans-Pritchard's later work was more theoretical, drawing upon his experiences as an anthropologist to philosophize on the nature of anthropology and how it should best be practiced. In 1950, he famously disavowed the commonly held view that anthropology was a natural science, arguing instead that it should be grouped amongst the humanities, especially history. He argued that the main issue facing anthropologists was one of translation—finding a way to translate one's own thoughts into the world of another culture and thus manage to come to understand it, and then to translate this understanding back so as to explain it to people of one's own culture.

In 1965, he published the highly influential work Theories of Primitive Religion, arguing against the existing theories of what at the time were called "primitive" religious practices. Arguing along the lines of his theoretical work of the 1950s, he claimed that anthropologists rarely succeeded in entering the minds of the people they studied, and so ascribed to them motivations which more closely matched themselves and their own culture, not the one they were studying. He also argued that believers and non-believers approached the study of religion in vastly different ways, with non-believers being quicker to come up with biological, sociological, or psychological theories to explain religion as an illusion, and believers being more likely to come up with theories explaining religion as a method of conceptualizing and relating to reality.

Life and family


Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard was born in Crowborough, East Sussex, England, the son of an Anglican cleric.[5] He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1944.

Known to his friends and family as "EP", Evans-Pritchard had five children with his wife Ioma, including journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, another writer and film festival director Deirdre Evans-Pritchard and Shineen Galloway, founder of EPG Computer Services. Some notable grandchildren are Ruth Galloway of the Midieval Babes choral group and Suriya Jayanti, a diplomat and journalist and documentary filmmaker Hannah Jayanti.

Evans-Pritchard died in Oxford on 11 September 1973.



A Rivers Memorial Medal recipient (1937) and of the Huxley Memorial Medal (1963) he was President of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland from 1949 to 1951. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1958 and the American Philosophical Society in 1968.[6][7] Evans-Pritchard was knighted in 1971. A number of Festschriften were prepared for him:

  • Essays in Sudan Ethnography: presented to Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard[8]
  • The Translation of Culture: Essays to E. E. Evans-Pritchard (London: Tavistock, 1973)[9][10][11]
  • Studies in Social Anthropology: Essays in Memory of E. E. Evans-Pritchard by His Former Oxford Colleagues (eds. J. H. M. Beattie and R. G. Lienhardt; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975)[12]


  • 1937 Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande. Oxford University Press. 1976 abridged edition: ISBN 0-19-874029-8
  • 1940a The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • 1940b "The Nuer of the Southern Sudan". in African Political Systems. M. Fortes and E.E. Evans-Pritchard, eds., London: Oxford University Press., pp. 272–296.
  • 1949 The Sanusi of Cyrenaica. London: Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • 1951a Kinship and Marriage Among the Nuer. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • 1951b "Kinship and Local Community among the Nuer". in African Systems of Kinship and Marriage. A.R. Radcliffe-Brown and D. Forde, eds., London: Oxford University Press. p. 360–391.
  • Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (July 1953), "The Sacrificial Role of Cattle among the Nuer" (PDF), Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 23 (3), Edinburgh University Press: 181–198, doi:10.2307/1156279, JSTOR 1156279, S2CID 145328497, retrieved 20 November 2011
  • 1956 Nuer Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • 1962 Social Anthropology and Other Essays. New York: The Free Press. BBC Third Programme Lectures, 1950.
  • 1965 Theories of Primitive Religion. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-823131-8
  • 1967 The Zande Trickster. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • 1971 La femme dans les societés primitives et autres essais d'anthropologie sociale. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
  • "Sources, with Particular Reference to the Southern Sudan", Cahiers d'études africaines, 11 (41): 129–179, 1971, retrieved 20 November 2011


  1. ^ Evans-Pritchard, Edward Evan (1928). The social organization of the Azande of the Bahr-el-Ghazal province of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (PhD). London School of Economics and Political Science. Archived from the original on 6 May 2021. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  2. ^ Larsen, Timothy (2014). The Slain God: Anthropologists and the Christian Faith. Oxford University Press. p. 85. ISBN 9780199657872. Archived from the original on 8 September 2023. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  3. ^ Bongo rain-shrine and grave Archived 1 December 2017 at the Wayback Machine accessed 19 August 2008
  4. ^ a b Pocock, David F. (July 1975). "Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard 1902–1973: An appreciation". Africa. 45 (3): 327–330. doi:10.1017/S0001972000025456. S2CID 143722277.
  5. ^ "E. E. Evans Pritchard". Answers.com. Archived from the original on 18 May 2013. Retrieved 1 May 2013.
  6. ^ "Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Archived from the original on 20 September 2022. Retrieved 16 September 2022.
  7. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Archived from the original on 20 September 2022. Retrieved 16 September 2022.
  8. ^ Cunnison, Ian; James, Wendy, eds. (1972). Essays in Sudan Ethnography: presented to Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard. London: Hurst. ISBN 978-0900966545.
  9. ^ Epstein, David G. (1973). "Reviewed Work(s): The Translation of Culture: Essays to E. E. Evans-Pritchard by T. O. Beidelman". American Anthropologist. New Series. 75 (2): 399–400. doi:10.1525/aa.1973.75.2.02a00160. JSTOR 672165.
  10. ^ Willis, R. G. (1974). "Reviewed Work(s): The Translation of Culture: Essays to E. E. Evans-Pritchard by T. O. Beidelman". Journal of the International African Institute. 44 (3): 317. doi:10.2307/1158418. JSTOR 1158418. S2CID 144224297.
  11. ^ Davis, J. (1974). "Reviewed Work(s): The Translation of Culture: Essays to E. E. Evans-Pritchard by T. O. Beidelman". Man. New Series. 9 (4): 638–40. doi:10.2307/2801147. JSTOR 2801147.
  12. ^ Spencer, Paul (1976). "Reviewed Work(s): Studies in Social Anthropology: Essays in Memory of E. E. Evans-Pritchard by His Former Oxford Colleagues by J. H. M. Beattie and R. G. Lienhardt". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 39 (2): 504–505. doi:10.1017/S0041977X00050679. JSTOR 616861. S2CID 162414156.

Further reading

  • Mary Douglas (1981). Edward Evans-Pritchard. Kingsport: Penguin Books.