Godfrey Lienhardt as a skeptic; or, Anthropology as conceptual puzzle-solving

Mario Schmidt


This article revolves around the observation that ethnographic classics like Godfrey Lienhardt’s Divinity and experience: The religion of the Dinka are conceived as ethnocentric and colonialist. Arguing against this verdict, the article attempts to rethink (and emancipate) Lienhardt as a Pyrrhonian skeptic. This sets the stage for an exploration of Lienhardt’s life-long interest in realigning anthropology as an objective science with literature as a form of art. Poetry, fiction, Lienhardt’s ethnography, as well as Pyrrhonian skepticism help us to explore the possibilities of conceptualizing creatively. They accomplish this by declining to offer definite answers about the world’s constitution. By way of conclusion, I propose to understand cultural anthropology as a form of “fictive science,” one that is primarily interested in solving conceptual puzzles that emerge during specific ethnographic encounters.


British social anthropology, Dinka, Godfrey Lienhardt, history of anthropology, methodology, skepticism

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau7.2.031