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Melford Elliot Spiro (born April 26, 1920) is an American cultural anthropologist specializing in religion and psychological anthropology. He is known for
his critiques of the pillars of contemporary anthropological theorywholesale cultural determinism, radical cultural relativism, and virtually limitless
cultural diversityand for his emphasis on the theoretical importance of unconscious desires and beliefs in the study of stability and change in social and
cultural systems, particularly in respect to the family, politics, and religion. Explicated in numerous theoretical publications, they are empirically
exemplified in monographs based on his fieldwork in Ifaluk atoll in Micronesia, an Israeli kibbutz, and a village in Burma (now Myanmar). He was a
significant figure in a series of debates over cultural relativismand postmodern theory among American cultural anthropologists in the 1980s and early
1990s, in which he consistently argued for the importance of the comparative method and the appreciation of universal cultural and psychological
Spiro received his B.A. fromthe University of Minnesota, where he majored in philosophy, following which he studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary
in New York City. Having developed an interest in culture theory, he explored this interest by enrolling in the anthropology department at Northwestern
University, where he worked with Melville Herskovits and A. Irving Hallowell, and received his PhD in 1950. He taught at Washington University (St
Louis), University of Connecticut, University of Washington, and University of Chicago before moving In 1968 to the University of California, San Diego
where he was invited to found the department of anthropology. He has been professor emeritus there since 1990. He is a member of the National Academy
of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was one of the founders of ETHOS and was president of the American Ethnological
Society and the Society for Psychological Anthropology.
Darnell, Regna (2006) "Keeping the Faith: A Legacy of Native American Ethnography, Ethnohistory, and Psychology." In: New Perspectives on
Native North America: Cultures, Histories, and Representations, ed. by Sergei A. Kan and Pauline Turner Strong, pp. 316. Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press.
Kilborne, Benjamin, and L.L. Langness, eds. (1987) Culture and human nature: Theoretical papers of Melford E. Spiro. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
Select bibliography
Spiro, Melford E.(1956) "Kibbutz:Venture in Utopia." Cambridge:Harvard University Press.
Spiro, Melford E.(1958) "Children of the Kibbutz". Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Spiro, Melford E.(1967) "Burmese Supernaturalism:A Study in the Explanation and Resolution of Suffering."Englewood Cliffs,N.J.:Prentice Hall.
Spiro, Melford E. (1971) "Buddhismand Society: A Great Tradition and its Burmese Vicissitudes." New York: Harper and Row.
Spiro, Melford E. (1977) "Kinship and Marriage in Burma:A Cultural and Psychodynamic Analysis." Los Angeles:University of California Press.
Spiro,Melford E. (1979) "Gender and Culture:Kibbutz Women Revisited." Durham,N.C.:Duke University Press.
Spiro, Melford E. (1982) "Oedipus in the Trobriands." Chicago:University of Chicago Press.
Spiro, Melford E. (1987) "Culture and Human Nature:Theoretical Papers of Melford E.Spiro." Benjamin Kilborne and L.L. Langness,
eds.Chicago:University of Chicago Press.
Spiro, Melford E. (1992) "Anthropological Other or Burmese Brother? Studies in Cultural Analysis." New Brunswick (USA): Transaction Publishers.
Spiro, Melford E. (1997) "Gender Ideology and Psychological Reality:An Essay on Cultural Reproduction." New Haven:Yale University Press.
Spiro, Melford E. (1984) "Some Reflections on Cultural Determinismand Relativismwith Special Reference to Emotion and Reason." pp. 323346
in Culture Theory: essays on mind, self, and emotion, edited by R. A. Shweder and R. A. LeVine. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Spiro, Melford E. (1986) "Cultural Relativismand the Future of Anthropology." Cultural Anthropology: Vol. 1, No. 3, 259-286.
Spiro, Melford E. (1987) "Religious systems as culturally constituted defense mechanisms." pp. 145160 in Culture and human nature: theoretical
papers of Melford E. Spiro, edited by B. Kilborne and L. L. Langness. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Spiro, Melford E. (1992) "On the strange and familiar in recent anthropological thought." pp. 5370 in Anthropological Other or Burmese Brother?
edited by M. E. Spiro. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press.
Spiro, Melford E. (1993) "Is the Western conception of the self "peculiar" within the context of the world cultures?" Ethos 21:107 - 153.
Kilborne, Benjamin, and L.L. Langness, eds. (1987 Culture and human nature: Theoretical papers of Melford E. Spiro. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
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Categories: 1920 births Living people American anthropologists University of Minnesota alumni Northwestern University alumni
University of Pennsylvania alumni Harvard University faculty University of California, San Diego faculty Psychological anthropologists
Anthropologists of religion Members of the United States National Academy of Sciences GuggenheimFellows
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