Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1881-1945) Cambridge-educated British social anthropologist closely associated with the theory of structural-functionalism.

Radcliffe-Brown was an indefatigable field-worker who conducted research in the Adaman Islands (1906-1908), Australia (1910-1912), and South Africa. His theoretical contributions gained far more attention than his careful ethnographic work. He taught at the University of Chicago from 1931 to 1937 and had tremendous influence on a generation of American anthropologists. Radcliffe-Brown's theoretical model draws heavily on analogies between the workings of social institutions and the workings of biological organisms. Throughout his career, he emphasized that social institutions—like biological organisms—possess readily discernible structures, and that each feature of social life has a "function" that contributes to the coherence and perpetuation of society as a whole. The major function of religion, according to Radcliffe-Brown, is to affirm and strengthen sentiments necessary for a society to continue. In his most cited work, The Adaman Islanders (Free Press 1964), he argues that Adaman myth and ritual are essential to Adaman society because they express sentiments upon which Adaman culture ultimately depends.

See also Functionalism

Stephen D. Glazier


A. H. Radcliffe-Brown, Structure and Function in Primitive Society (London: Cohen & West, 1952).

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