Benedict, Ruth

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.

Benedict, Ruth (b. Fulton)

(1887–1948) anthropologist; born in New York City. A Vassar College graduate, she earned a Ph.D. in anthropology under Franz Boas at Columbia University, where she joined the faculty and assisted Boas (1923–48). Although deafness limited her fieldwork, she was recognized as America's leading anthropologist after Boas' retirement. Her Patterns of Culture (1934) was a classic statement of cultural relativity and one of the most influential modern works of anthropology. In it she argued for cultural determinism; analyzing three Indian tribes in archetypal terms, she concluded that cultures are "personalities writ large," and that psychological normality is culturally defined. Her Zuñi Mythology (1935) and Race (1940), an anthropologically based denunciation of racism, developed these themes. In her wartime work for the Bureau of Overseas Intelligence (1943–46), she initiated an innovative method of applying anthropological techniques to the study of foreign cultures, developing a series of "national character" studies that bore fruit in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946), an analysis of Japanese culture. In this effort, she worked closely with Margaret Mead, who wrote an important study of her friend, An Anthropologist at Work (1959).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.