Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah

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Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah
Born (1929-01-16)16 January 1929
Sri Lanka, British Ceylon
Died 19 January 2014(2014-01-19) (aged 85)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Residence Sri Lanka
United States
Nationality Sri Lanka
Alma mater University of Ceylon
Cornell University

Balzan Prize (1997)

Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize (1998)
Scientific career
Fields Social anthropologist
Institutions S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia
University of Ceylon
University of Cambridge
University of Chicago
Harvard University
Doctoral students Chris Fuller of London School of Economics
Influences Edmund Leach (mentor)[1]
Part of a series on
Anthropology of religion
Social and cultural anthropology

Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah (16 January 1929[2] – 19 January 2014)[3] was a social anthropologist[4] and Esther and Sidney Rabb Professor (Emeritus) of Anthropology at Harvard University.[5] He specialised in studies of Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Tamils, as well as the anthropology of religion and politics.


Tambiah was born in Sri Lanka to a Christian Tamil family. He attended S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia for his primary and secondary education. After finishing his undergraduate education at the University of Ceylon in 1951, he attended Cornell University, graduating in 1954 with a PhD.[4] He began teaching sociology at the University of Ceylon in 1955, where he remained until 1960. After a few years as the UNESCO Teaching Assistant for Thailand, he taught at the University of Cambridge from 1963 to 1972 and at the University of Chicago from 1973 to 1976.[2] He joined the faculty of Harvard University in 1976.[5]

His earliest major published work was an ethno-historical study of modern and medieval Thailand. He then became interested in the comparative study of the ways Western categories of magic, science and religion have been used by anthropologists to make sense of other cultures which do not use this three-part system. After the outbreak of civil war in Sri Lanka, he began to study the role of competing religious and ethnic identities in that country. At Harvard, he trained several generations of anthropologists in a number of fields. He also served on the National Research Council's Committee for International Conflict Resolution.[4] He did field research on the Organisation of Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka (Monks, Priests and Peasants, a Study of Buddhism and Social Structure in Central Ceylon and several papers in the American Anthropologists and the Journal of Asian Studies).[1]


In November 1997, Tambiah received the prestigious Balzan Prize[4] for "penetrating social-anthropological analysis of the fundamental problems of ethnic violence in South East Asia and original studies on the dynamics of Buddhist societies [that] have opened the way to an innovative and rigorous social-anthropological approach to the internal dynamics of different civilizations".[6] A month later, the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland awarded him its highest recognition,[7] the Huxley Memorial Medal and Lecture.[8] In September 1998, he was awarded the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize by the city of Fukuoka, capital of Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan.[9]

In 2000, he became a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy,[10] a title given to those who have "attained high international standing" in a discipline in the humanities or social sciences.[11]

Selected publications[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Review of Edmund Leach: An Anthropological Life by Edmund Leach; Stanley Tambiah". Anthropology Today, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Jun. 2005), pp. 22–23. Retrieved 21 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Anthony, Peterson. "Stanley Tambiah". Anthropology Biography Web. Emuseum @ Minnesota State University, Mankato. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  3. ^ "STANLEY JEYARAJ TAMBIAH – Obituary, Condolences". The Boston Globe. 21 January 2014. Retrieved 24 January 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d Gewertz, Ken (23 October 1997). "Stanley Tambiah To Be Awarded Balzan Prize For Groundbreaking Work on Ethnic Violence". Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  5. ^ a b "Harvard Foundation unveils portraits: Six minority faculty and administrators recognized and recognizable". Harvard Gazette. 12 May 2005. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  6. ^ "Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah". Fondazione Internazionale Balzan. Retrieved 20 August 2007. 
  7. ^ "Honours". Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original on 9 August 2007. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  8. ^ "Huxley Memorial Medal and Lecture: Prior Recipients". Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original on 12 July 2007. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  9. ^ Gewertz, Ken (6 August 1998). "Stanley Tambiah To Be Awarded Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prize". Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  10. ^ "British Academy elects Tambiah". Harvard Gazette. 9 November 2000. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  11. ^ "The Fellowship of the British Academy". The British Academy. 2006. Archived from the original on 9 July 2007. Retrieved 19 August 2007.