Paul Radin

Paul Radin (1883-1959) was an American anthropologist and ethnographer who specialized in the ethnology of religion and mythology and the ethnography of Native Americans.

Paul Radin was born on April 2, 1883, in Poland, and in his early childhood lived in New York City. He received his bachelor's degree in 1902 at City College and after a short period abroad went to Columbia University to study history and anthropology under Franz Boas, receiving a doctorate in 1911. By studying with Boas at Columbia he joined a group of young scholars that became a major influence in the subsequent 4 decades of American anthropology. He did fieldwork among the Winnebago, the Ojibwa, the Fox, the Zapotec, the Wappo, the Wintun, and the Huave. Of these, the Winnebago were his specialty and provided him with material for numerous monographs and articles as well as many extensive examples for his more general writings.

One central theme ran through the greatest portion of Radin's work—the manner by which particular individuals respond to the vicissitudes of their immediate cultural environment. This theme is particularly evident in his three major works. Thus Primitive Man as a Philosopher (1927) cogently argues that reflective individuals are to be found quite as readily among primitives as elsewhere. In Primitive Religion (1937) he demonstrates that for any given culture the degree of religiosity to be found varies from indifferent to deep, depending on the proclivities and intelligence of the individual. The position of the individual was the explicit theme of Crashing Thunder (1926), for here Radin obtained, translated, and edited the autobiography of a member of the Winnebago tribe. This book was a landmark in American anthropology. It was the first and probably the best of a long line of similar autobiographical accounts of individual Indians that was published by subsequent anthropologists.

Other important works by Radin included the The Story of the American Indian (1927), Social Anthropology (1927), The Method and Theory of Ethnology (1933), The Culture of the Winnebago, as Described by Themselves (1949), and The Trickster (1956).

Radin never stayed at any one academic institution for more than a few years. He found the institutionalized aspect of intellectual life uncongenial and preferred to remain throughout his career an independent scholar. At various times he held posts at Berkeley, Mills College, Fisk University, Black Mountain College, Kenyon College, the University of Chicago, and, finally, Brandeis University, where he was made a Samuel Rubin professor and became head of the anthropology department. Radin died on Feb. 21, 1959.


Further Reading on Paul Radin

An excellent biographical sketch of Radin is in Stanley Diamond, ed., Culture in History: Essays in Honor of Paul Radin (1960). Background studies are Robert H. Lowie, The History of Ethnological Theory (1937); H. R. Hays, From Ape to Angel: An Informal History of Social Anthropology (1958); and Marvin Harris, The Rise of Anthropological Theory: A History of Theories of Culture (1968).