Melford Elliot Spiro (April 26, 1920 – October 18, 2014) was an American cultural anthropologist specializing in religion and psychological anthropology. He is known for his critiques of the pillars of contemporary anthropological theory—wholesale cultural determinism, radical cultural relativism, and virtually limitless cultural diversity—and for his emphasis on the theoretical importance of unconscious desires and beliefs in the study of stability and change in social and cultural systems, particularly in respect to the family, politics, and religion. Explicated in numerous theoretical publications, they are empirically exemplified in monographs based on his fieldwork in Ifaluk atoll in Micronesia, an Israeli kibbutz, and a village in Burma (now Myanmar). He was a significant figure in a series of debates over cultural relativism and postmodern theory among American cultural anthropologists in the 1980s and early 1990s, in which he consistently argued for the importance of the comparative method and the appreciation of universal cultural and psychological processes.
Spiro received his B.A. from the University of Minnesota, where he majored in philosophy, following which he studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. Having developed an interest in culture theory, he explored this interest by enrolling in the anthropology department at Northwestern University, where he worked with Melville Herskovits and A. Irving Hallowell, and received his PhD in 1950. He taught at Washington University (St Louis), University of Connecticut, University of Washington, and University of Chicago before moving In 1968 to the University of California, San Diego where he was invited to found the department of anthropology. He has been professor emeritus there since 1990. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was one of the founders of ETHOS and was president of the American Ethnological Society and the Society for Psychological Anthropology.
Darnell, Regna (2006) "Keeping the Faith: A Legacy of Native American Ethnography, Ethnohistory, and Psychology." In: New Perspectives on Native North America: Cultures, Histories, and Representations, ed. by Sergei A. Kan and Pauline Turner Strong, pp. 3–16. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Kilborne, Benjamin, and L.L. Langness, eds. (1987) Culture and human nature: Theoretical papers of Melford E. Spiro. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Spiro, Melford E. (1987) "Culture and Human Nature:Theoretical Papers of Melford E.Spiro." Benjamin Kilborne and L.L. Langness, eds.Chicago:University of Chicago Press.
Spiro, Melford E. (1992) "Anthropological Other or Burmese Brother? Studies in Cultural Analysis." New Brunswick (USA): Transaction Publishers.
Spiro, Melford E. (1997) "Gender Ideology and Psychological Reality:An Essay on Cultural Reproduction." New Haven:Yale University Press.
Spiro, Melford E. (1984) "Some Reflections on Cultural Determinism and Relativism with Special Reference to Emotion and Reason." pp. 323–346 in Culture Theory: essays on mind, self, and emotion, edited by R. A. Shweder and R. A. LeVine. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Spiro, Melford E. (1986) "Cultural Relativism and the Future of Anthropology." Cultural Anthropology: Vol. 1, No. 3, 259-286.
Spiro, Melford E. (1987) "Religious systems as culturally constituted defense mechanisms." pp. 145–160 in Culture and human nature: theoretical papers of Melford E. Spiro, edited by B. Kilborne and L. L. Langness. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Spiro, Melford E. (1992) "On the strange and familiar in recent anthropological thought." pp. 53–70 in Anthropological Other or Burmese Brother? edited by M. E. Spiro. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press.
Spiro, Melford E. (1993) "Is the Western conception of the self "peculiar" within the context of the world cultures?" Ethos 21:107 - 153.
Kilborne, Benjamin, and L.L. Langness, eds. (1987 Culture and human nature: Theoretical papers of Melford E. Spiro. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.