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Anthropology Colloquium: David Palmer

Friday, November 9, 2018 at 3:00pm to 4:30pm

McGraw Hall, 215
740-750 University Ave, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA

"Descola, Granet, and the forgotten influences between French Anthropology and Sinology”


In his seminal Beyond Nature and Culture (2005/2013), the French anthropologist Philippe Descola draws heavily on the work of Marcel Granet (1884-1940) in his conceptualization of “analogical ontologies,” bringing to the surface a forgotten history of mutual influences between scholarship on Chinese religion and French anthropological and social theory. This paper will outline the story of these interactions, highlighting the pivotal role of the sinologist and sociologist Marcel Granet, whose most influential works, Danses et légendes de la Chine ancienne (1926) and La pensée chinoise (1934), have never been translated into English. I will discuss his collaboration with Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss, and his influence on Claude Lévi-Strauss, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu and Philippe Descola. Building on this discussion, I will propose some potential avenues for fruitful engagement between social theory and empirical studies on Chinese culture and religion.

Dr David A Palmer is an Associate Professor in the department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong, which he joined in 2008. After completing his Ph.D. at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (School for Advanced Research, Sorbonne), he was the Eileen Barker Fellow in Religion and Contemporary Society in the Department of Sociology of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and, from 2004 to 2008, director of the Hong Kong Centre of the French School of Asian Studies (Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient), located at the Institute for Chinese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Palmer is best known for his award-winning books The Religious Question in Modern China (Joseph Levenson Award of the Association for Asian Studies and PROSE award of the American Publishers’ Association, co-authored with V. Goossaert) and Qigong Fever: Body, Science and Utopia in China (Francis L.K. Hsu Award of the Society for East Asian Anthropology), both of which have become essential reading for studies on contemporary Chinese society and religion. His latest book Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality (co-authored with E. Siegler) has just been published by the University of Chicago Press. He has also published numerous articles, journal issues and edited volumes on Chinese religion, civil society, Daoism, the Baha’i Faith, and modern and transnational religious movements.

Palmer’s interdisciplinary research and teaching is situated at the intersection of sociology and anthropology, and is informed by scholarly traditions in history, religious studies and Sinology. His current research projects focus on civil society, subject formation and governance in China; Chinese religion, Daoism and ethnicity in southern China and the Indo-Chinese Peninsula; and inter-Asian religious circulations.

He leads the “Rethinking Spirituality and Religion in Asia” research cluster at the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, where he is on secondment for the academic year 2017-18.

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Anthropology, East Asia Program


East Asia program, cashum

Cornell Contemporary China Initiative
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Liz Kirk

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David Palmer

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A reception will follow the talk.

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free and open to the public.

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