- Weston La Barre
Raoul Weston La Barre (
13 December 1911–March 1996) was an American anthropologist, best known for his work in ethnobotany, particularly with regard to Native-American religion, and for his application of psychiatric and psychoanalytic theories to ethnography.
Education and early career
La Barre was born in
Uniontown, Pennsylvania, the son of a banker. After matriculating from Princeton Universityin 1933 he began field work with the Yale Institute of Human Relations. During this period, La Barre worked with one of his lifelong academic associates, Richard Evans Schultesof Harvard University. Travelling and sleeping in Schultes' old car, the two young scientists motored extensively throughout Oklahomaon their quest to study the peyote cult of the Plains Indians. La Barre received his doctoratefrom Yale in 1937 with a thesis on peyotereligion.
In 1937 La Barre was made a Sterling Fellow at Yale, and conducted field work in South America with the
Aymaraof Lake Titicacaregion and the Urosof the Rio Desaguadero.
In 1938 his first book, "
The Peyote Cult", was published, and was immediately hailed as a classic, on the cutting edge of psychological anthropology. He was enabled by a Social Science Research CouncilPostdoctoral Fellowship to go to the Menninger Clinicin Topeka, Kansasin order to be trained in psychoanalysis, and from 1938 to 1939 he continued his research into the psychological depths of indigenous cultures at the clinic.
La Barre married
Maurine Boiein 1939; she was a social worker and the editor of the social-work journal "Family". She went on to teach at the Duke University Medical Center. The couple had three children together.
From 1939 until 1943 La Barre taught anthropology at
Rutgers University. World War IIintervened, and he served as a Community Analyst for the War Relocation Authority based in Topaz, Utah. Through his military connections, he was able to conduct field research in Chinaand Indiaduring the closing years of the war. He served on the staff of Field Marshall Montgomery, which he described in later years as "glorious". During the war years, he was able to travel on official business, and he made the first of three crossings of Africa.
After World War II
In 1946, La Barre was appointed professor at
Duke University, which was to become his academic home for the rest of his career.
In 1950, he published "
The Human Animal", a study of the psychoanalytical approach to psychology and culture. The book became a global bestseller.
He published "The Aymara Indians of the Lake Titicaca Plateau" and "They Shall Take up Serpents: Psychology of the Southern Snake-handling Cult", which are regarded as landmark studies of indigenous peoples in the Amazon and the extremist culture of
Christian fundamentalismlurking in the urban and rural landscapes of contemporary America.
During the 1950s and 1960s, La Barre became absorbed in the study of altered states of consciousness precipitated by the ingestion of
shamanistic plants from peyote and ayahuascato magic mushrooms. Collaborating with Schultes and R. Gordon Wasson, La Barre conducted profoundly original investigations into the anthropology and archeology of altered states of consciousness. Convinced that the shamanism of Siberia was equivalent to the shamanic practices he had observed in the Americas, La Barre established a global theory of shamanism that supplanted that of Mircea Eliade.
In 1970, La Barre was honoured with an endowed chair, the James B. Duke Professorship of Anthropology, and he published the book that he considered to be his magnum opus, "The Ghost Dance: Origins of Religion", a psychoanalytic account of the birth of religion through the lens of his treatment of the
ghost dancereligion of native America.
His later books include: "Shadow of Childhood: Neoteny and the Biology of Religion" and "Muelos: A Stone Age Superstition about Sexuality".
Throughout his academic career, La Barre received a host of honours, awards, and titles.
He died in 1996 at his home in
Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Large collections of his papers are deposited at Duke University and the National Anthropological Archives in the
* Atwood D. Gaines, Paul E. Farmer, "Weston La Barre", in "Encyclopedia of Anthropology" SAGE Publications (2006), ISBN 0-7619-3029-9
* Weston La Barre: "Muelos: A Stone Age Superstition About Sexuality", Columbia University Press, 1984, ISBN 0231059612
* Weston La Barre: "Shadow of Childhood: Neoteny and the Biology of Religion", University of Oklahoma Press, 1991, ISBN 0806123281
* Weston La Barre: "The Peyote Cult", Shoe String Press, 1976, ISBN 020801456X
* Weston La Barre: "Ghost Dance: The Origins of Religion", Waveland Press, 1990, ISBN 0881335614
* Weston La Barre: "They Shall Take Up Serpents: Psychology of the Southern Snake-Handling Cult", Waveland Press, 1992, ISBN 0881336637
[http://www.americanethnography.com/article_sql.php?id=25 American Ethnography -- The Peyote Cult reviewed by Morris Edward Opler]
Atwood D. Gaines& Paul E. Farmer, "Weston La Barre", in " Encyclopedia of Anthropology" ed. H. James Birx(2006, SAGE Publications; ISBN 0-7619-3029-9)
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