Anthropologist at the Hypocrites Club

A new book surveys the professional career of E E Evans-Pritchard, a noted anthropologist who made his reputation with studies of Sudanese cultures. This biography is entitled The Anthropological Lens: A Dandy Among the Azande and is written by Christopher Morton. It is reviewed by anthropologist Adam Kuper in a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal. According to the review, what sets Evans-Pritchard apart is his writing style. Quoting another assessment, Kuper writes:

“there has been no greater master of the ‘Oxbridge Senior Common Room’ tone, instancing his deployment as a guerrilla officer in the Sudan during World War II: ‘This was just what I wanted and what I could do, for I had made researches in the Southern Sudan and spoke with ease some of its languages.'”

Evans-Prichard was a member of the Hypocrites Club at Oxford. While Waugh, also a member, doesn’t mention him among his “roll call” of Hypocrites in his autobiography A Little Learning, Kuper explains that they would have known each other. Waugh’s friend Anthony Powell, also a member, recalls Evans-Pritchard in his memoirs as “grave, withdrawn and somewhat exotic in dress.” He was photographed wearing a Berber gown at a 1924 fancy dress party given by the Hypocrites. Evans-Pritchard had another connection at the Hypocrites through Waugh’s friend from Lancing, Tom Driberg, also a member. Driberg’s brother Jack, who “would become a district officer in the Sudan, [had] studied anthropology under Bronislaw Malinowski, and became a bosom friend of Evans-Pritichard.”

Kuper goes on to explain how several of the Hypocrites became part of the Bright Young People after they left Oxford but does not mention whether the biography places Evans-Pritchard himself in that group. Evans-Pritchard like fellow Hypocrites Waugh and Christopher Hollis and non-Hypocrite Oxford contemporary Graham Greene also became a convert to Roman Catholicism. This took place while he was serving in Libya.

After his conversion Evans-Pritchard rather distanced himself from fellow anthropologists whom he dismissed as “dogmatic unbelievers, obsessed with showing that religious belief was a bundle of illusions…” He, nevertheless, held the chair of social anthropology at Oxford until 1970 and, according to Kuper, “at his peak was the equal of his teacher and rival Bronislaw Malinowski. Mr Morton offers a fresh perspective on an extraordinary career.”

From a quick survey of the table of contents and index of the book available on Amazon.com, it appears that these discussions of Evans-Pritchard’s Oxford career and religious conversion come from Kuper’s own knowledge rather than Morton’s biography. The latter appears to concentrate more on Evans-Pritchard’s photography and fieldwork than it does on his personal life.

 

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