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Colloquium: Boas’s Most Difficult Problem of Anthropology: Documenting and Explaining Patterns in Human Culture, with speaker Manvir Singh, UC Davis

Manvir Singh- UC Davis
Mon November 13th 2023, 3:30 - 5:00pm
Event Sponsor
Department of Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 50-51A (Colloquium Room)

In 1896, Franz Boas declared that “the most difficult problem of anthropology” was to explain cultural traditions “that develop with iron necessity wherever man lives”. In this talk, I will present a research program that aims to return to Boas’s problem using tools and insights from modern sociocultural, cognitive, and evolutionary approaches. Addressing shamanism, music, and punitive justice, I will draw on cross-cultural and long-term ethnographic research suggesting that complex, ubiquitous cultural traditions reliably emerge as humans create and preferentially retain traditions that appear to satisfy regular goals. Our profound cultural similarities reflect our capacity to craft culture that compellingly satisfies widespread motivations.