Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1925-1995) Born in Paris and educated at Prague and at Balliol College, Oxford, Gellner was Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University from 1984 to 1992.

Gellner has produced almost 20 books and numerous articles covering a very wide range of philosophical, ethnographic, historical, and anthropological interests. His main specializations have been in Arab, Mediterranean, and Islamic studies, theory and explanation in anthropology, and the place of reason in characterizing primitive societies. He has made notable contributions to debates on nationalism, characterized in terms of the tension between reason and passion, which form part of a wider concern with the study of beliefs. A continual theme in his writings has been the defense of the place of reason in human affairs. Writing in a punchy, provocative, and witty style, Gellner's versatility in so many areas, combined with the richness of his insights, have given him a unique place in British anthropology.

His recent work, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion (Routledge 1992), embodies many of his characteristics as a thinker, first displayed in his Words and Things (Oxford University Press 1959). The fashion of postmodernism is lambasted in his characteristic style. Gellner dislikes anything that smacks of relativism in human affairs. His notion of a constitutional religion in this work marks debts to Durkheim but also characterizes a defense of a mild rationalist fundamentalism, where reason holds sway over revelation.

Kieran Flanagan

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