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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Ruth Benedict

b. 1887, New York; d. 1948, New York

Ruth Benedict’s life and work shaped the discipline of anthropology in the United States and throughout the world. She studied at Columbia University under Franz Boas, whose egalitarian and antiracist approach to culture deeply influenced her own work. Benedict developed a new and innovative methodology, focusing on the choices and behavior of individuals as a key to cultural themes. “The purpose of anthropology,” she stated, “is to make the world safe for human differences” (Haviland, Cultural Anthropology, 133). Her emphasis on socialization implicitly critiqued theories of nature and inborn temperament. Benedict taught at Columbia University for more than twenty years and published several books, including Patterns of Culture (1934), a classic in the field; Zuni Mythology (1935); Race: Science and Politics (1940), a refutation of racist theories of culture; and The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946).

Haviland, William A. Cultural Anthropology: The Human Challenge. 11th ed. Belmont, California: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005.