I first got word of Mary Douglas’ death from Rex’s post over at Savage Minds. It seems like a lot of good anthropologists have passed away this year, such as F. Clark Howell. Mary DouglasDouglas was a cultural anthropologist, and from Wikipedia, she was,

“well known for her writings on human culture and symbolism. She was also considered a follower of Durkheim and a proponent of structuralist analysis, with a strong interest in comparative religion.”

I appreciated Mary Douglas because she meticulously examined how people across different cultures give meanings to their reality. She further examined how this reality is expressed by their cultural symbols. In this way she found some universal patterns in symbolism. The best example of her work, in my opinion, was her book Purity and Danger.

To a read a more thorough summary of the life of Mary Douglas, I recommend both the Gaurdian and The Times obituaries on her. Also, the New York Times has just published an obituary on her as well.