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Gellner, Ernest (1925-1995)

Ernest Gellner (1925-1995) is a British philosopher, sociologist and anthropologist of Czech origin, one of the most brilliant European polemists and intellectuals of the second half of the 20th century. After studying philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford, he joined the London School of Economics in 1949 and studied social anthropology under Raymond Firth. Appointed professor of philosophy, logic and scientific method in 1962, he taught there until 1984, when he joined the University of Cambridge and became professor of social anthropology until 1992. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, he devoted his last years to the newly founded Central European University in Prague. Imbued with the universalism of the Enlightenment and critical rationalism, he fought against the idealism and relativism of the social sciences of his time. Fiercely contemptuous of the linguistic philosophy of Wittgenstein and Austin, he remains faithful to Malinowski’s pragmatism and rejects the interpretativist, hermeneutic and post-modern interpretations of anthropology, whose excessive culturalism he criticizes to the detriment of the consideration of social structures. After fieldwork among the Berber tribes of the Moroccan High Atlas, in 1969 he published Saints of the Atlas, which was a landmark in the study of Islam, particularly for its segmentary theory inspired by Evans-Pritchard. Among his many themes of reflection, the question of nationalism and the construction of the modern nation-state, social cohesion, the historical sociology of Islam, the method and theory of knowledge in the social sciences have nourished an abundant body of work.

Keywords: Philosophy | Social British Anthropology | 20th century | Morocco | Arab and Islamic Studies | Islam | Concept of culture | Nation | Nationalism | Methodology