RESEARCH INTEREST

For about 15 years I concentrated on Himalayan topics.  I conducted fieldwork for twenty months in the east of Nepal with one Tibeto-Burman speaking tribal group (Thulung Rai), and spent a shorter period later with another group north of Simla (Kinnaur).  I wrote one book describing the Thulung language, but most of my writings concentrated on comparative studies of Himalayan social structure, kinship, ritual and mythology.

From the early or mid 1980s I diversified into three new areas.  (a) I developed an interest in the history of the French tradition in anthropology, in particular in the work of Durkheim, Mauss and Dumont.  (b) I tried to develop, at a certain level of abstraction, a world-historical theory of kinship, starting with systems such as occur in very small-scale societies where ‘everyone is related to everyone else’.  (c)  Building on experience with Tibeto-Burman mythology, I have been developing the comparative approach to Indo-European cultures, along the lines pioneered by the French scholar Georges Dumézil.  I believe that, with certain modifications (notably a ‘fourth function’ having positive and negative ‘aspects’), Dumézil’s approach can help us to identify certain enduring patterns in Hindu/Buddhist thought and culture, casting light both on their origins and on their subsequent transformations.  However, the relevance of this line of work is not confined to the Indian subcontinent, for it relates to the history of the Indo-European-speaking world in general.  For instance, if, as seems clear, the Homeric epics can be shown to be cognate with the Sanskrit Mahâbhârata, this has implications not only for the study of early Greece but also for the history of European literature.

Some photos