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.
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
but also for the history of European literature.