Geertz, Clifford 1926-2006 (Clifford James Geertz)

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Geertz, Clifford 1926-2006 (Clifford James Geertz)


See index for CA sketch: Born August 23, 1926, in San Francisco, CA; died of complications following heart surgery, October 30, 2006, in Philadelphia, PA. Anthropologist, educator, and author. Geertz was a leading cultural anthropologist who was particularly noted for developing the discipline of ethnography. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before going to university. In 1950, he completed his undergraduate work at Antioch College, and this was followed by a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1956. Even before his formal studies were done, Geertz conducted field research in Indonesia, where he studied the native Javanese. Remaining at Harvard after earning his doctorate, Geertz was a research associate there for a year. He then was a researcher at the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology through 1958. In 1959, Geertz joined the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley, and the next year he moved to the University of Chicago. Here he made full professor of anthropology in 1964 and was chair of the Committee for the Comparative Study of New Nations from 1968 to 1970. While at Chicago, Geertz switched his studies from Indonesia to Morocco, because the former nation had become politically unstable. He studied the culture in ancient Sefrou in Morocco, and over the years made five more trips to the region. His final move was to Princeton, New Jersey, where he was professor of social science at the Institute for advanced Study from 1970 to 1982, and Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science thereafter until his death.

As a scholar of anthropology, Geertz proved quite influential; indeed, his writings had an impact on many branches of social sciences, including psychology, history, literature, and philosophy. Unlike many of his colleagues, he did not believe that one could discover universal symbols that had meaning across all cultures in the world. Instead, he felt that societies were far too complicated and different for overarching theories. He did believe, though, that symbols should be approached to discover what they mean to a culture, rather than trying to see only their function within a culture. It was his aesthetic interpretation of cultures drawing on a wide range of academic disciplines that led to the creation of a new field called ethnography. Geertz wrote of his ideas in many books, the most influential of these being 1973's The Interpretation of Cultures. Among his other works are Agricultural Involution: The Process of Ecological Change in Indonesia (1963), Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia (1968), Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (1988), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Available Light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics (2000).



Geertz, Clifford, After the Fact: Two Countries, Four Decades, One Anthropologist, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1995.


Los Angeles Times, November 7, 2006, p. B10.

New York Times, November 1, 2006, p. C21; November 2, 2006, p. A2.

Times (London, England), November 9, 2006, p. 62.

Washington Post, November 2, 2006, p. B7.