It Takes 200 Kilometers for Anthropologists to Focus on Beliefs

Resuscitating Controversies
By Pierre Lagrange


Why do social anthropologists prefer to study faraway beliefs in time or space (such as medieval ghosts or non-Western shamanism), and why do they often ignore beliefs that develop inside our scientific society (such as contemporary astrology or UFOlogy), except to debunk them? This article shows that the refusal to study our beliefs is closely connected to the refusal to study scientific practices, for fear of the confusion between “scientific facts” and “mere beliefs.” It also shows that works claiming to take beliefs seriously most of the time do not: they have only debunked specific scientific practices as if they were beliefs. The article finally shows that when beliefs are studied with the same level of seriousness, the scientists often forget to mention the contribution of the sciences that made that treatment of belief possible. As a result, social anthropologists, particularly in France, often encounter a sort of blind spot regarding scientific practices when studying beliefs.
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