What is Anthropology?

It’s a question I’ve been asked to ponder in a strangely wide variety of situations lately. Teaching high school Seniors, Juniors, two Sophomores, and 8th graders mathematics this year found myself explaining a lot of new topics I never intended to, but my chosen field of study anthropology is chief among them.

Then on Spring Break, I was asked by a Depth Psychologist to explain exactly what anthropology was, on an 8th grade level.  I thought great! I’ve got some experience actually doing this.  I told her, “Anthropology is the study of what it means to be human in all its variety over all time and space, all around the world and throughout history and pre-history. Anthropologists are fascinated by all things human. We, of course, have different specialties, cultural anthropologists study people alive here and now, by observing them, talking to them, and participating in the cultural traditions we seek to understand as much as possible.”  My colleague’s elegant answer was the famous but hard to attribute quote, “Anthropology is the most scientific of the humanities, and the most humanistic of the sciences.” Then I looked at her and told her, “Honestly, maybe it has something to do with where I grew up, but I always saw Anthropology, especially anthropology as a teaching tool, as a tool for breaking down fear and prejudice born from the unknown. Anthropology allows us to understand each other’s cultures a little better, see through one another’s worldview if we take the time, and perhaps bring a little more compassion and understanding into the world. But I guess that’s a little sappy.”

Anthropology’s ultimate goal: to understand the human condition.

Teaching anthropology is the best step I can personally take to do my part for world peace. Changing one mind at a time.

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