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Ruth Benedict
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Ruth Benedict

Ruth Benedict (née Fulton) (June 6, 1887 - September 17, 1948) was an American anthropologist.

She was born in New York. She attended Vassar College, graduating in 1909.

She entered graduate studies at Columbia University in 1919, studying under Franz Boas, receiving her PhD and joining the faculty in 1923. Margaret Mead was one of her students.

Her Patterns of Culture (1934) expresses cultural relativism in describing behaviors said to appear in every human society. (Her critics dismiss these patterns as a "tiny subset" of the whole.)

In 1936 she was appointed an associate professor.

Benedict was among the leading social anthropologists who were recruited by the U.S. Government for war-related research and consultation after U.S. entry into World War II.

One of her lesser known works was a pamphlet she wrote then with Gene Weltfish, intended for American troops and stating the scientific case against racist beliefs. Despite the military concern that racially motivated behaviors interfered with military efficiency, approvals needed for its full distribution did not come.

Table of contents
1 The Chrysanthemum and the Sword
2 Post-War
3 Reference

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

Her war work included a major study, largely completed in 1944, aimed at understanding, for instance, Japanese incomprehension of things Americans considered quite natural: these included American POWss' wanting their families to know they were alive, and conquered Asian peoples' neither treating the Japanese as their liberators from Western colonialism, nor accepting their supposedly obviously just place in a hierarchy that had Japanese at the top. She played a major role in studying the role in society of the Emperor of Japan, and formulating the recommendation to President Roosevelt that permitting continuation of the Emporeror's reign be part of the eventual surrender offer.

Benedict is best known for her book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, the study of the society and culture of Japan that she published in 1946, incorporating results of her war-time research.

While some regard this book as "long since ... discredited since Benedict had no direct experience in Japan" and describe it as "considered shallow and overtly racist", it is still generally regarded as a classic whose value continues even despite the post-war changes in Japanese culture. For instance, in 2000, a Japanese ambassador said without qualification in a public address,

In 1946, Ruth Benedict, a well-known American cultural anthropologist, published a book on Japan entitled The Chrysanthemum and The Sword, which has been a must reading for many students of Japanese studies.

Post-War

She continued her teaching after the war, advancing to the rank of full
professor, and died in New York on September 17, 1948.

A U.S. postage stamp in her honor was issued October 20, 1995.

Reference