"I don't do systems": An interview with Clifford Geertz
in: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion. Journal of the North American Association for the Study of Religion,
vol. 14 no. 1 (March 1, 2002), pp. 2-20

(interview with Arun Micheelsen)


I had the honor of interviewing Clifford Geertz at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, USA, on October 18, 2000. The interview focused on Geertz's theoretical conceptions, the tradition on which he draws, the critique he has encountered, and on interpretive anthropology's future development. Of particular interest was the clarification of his much-debated method, his definition of symbol and his famous definition of religion as a cultural system. Geertz emphasizes his attempt to exercise an applied pragmatic phenomenological and hermeneutical method without any general theory (or philosophy) of meaning, phenomenology, or culture. He maintains that he only has a conceptual framework inspired by different scholars, which nevertheless has consistent focus and perspective, i.e., meaning and symbol. In relationship to this, Geertz defines his symbol within the Peircean semiotic tradition. Therefore, the term symbol is understood as a sign (an index for example), which becomes a symbol via a cultural interpretation. Furthermore, his definition of religion as a cultural system is, in his view, a nonessentialistic definition and therefore is not - as Talal Asad claims - ethnocentric. Although it is Geertz's opinion that interpretive anthropology has been influenced by postmodernism, he predicts that interpretive anthropology's future development will be in reasonable continuity with its past. In my closing comments I tentatively suggest that Geertz may have a theory of interpretation because of his definition of the symbol, his unavoidable assumptions, and his unique method, which has the capacity of grasping the cultural specific in a general way.


online source: IngentaSelect
Method & Theory in the Study of Religion; Volume 14, Number , pp. 2-20;
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2002


Using this text is also subject to the general HyperGeertz-Copyright-regulations based on Austrian copyright-law (2001), which - in short - allow a personal, nonprofit & educational (all must apply) use of material stored in data bases, including a restricted redistribution of such material, if this is also for nonprofit purposes and restricted to a specific scientific community (both must apply), and if full and accurate attribution to the author, original source and date of publication, web location(s) or originating list(s) is given ("fair-use-restriction"). Any other use transgressing this restriction is subject to a direct agreement between a subsequent user and the holder of the original copyright(s) as indicated by the source(s). HyperGeertz@WorldCatalogue cannot be held responsible for any neglection of these regulations and will impose such a responsibility on any unlawful user.

Each copy of any part of a  transmission of a HyperGeertz-Text must therefore contain this same copyright notice as it appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission, including any specific copyright notice as  indicated above by the original copyright holder and/ or the previous online source(s).