Introducing Cultural Anthropology

A Christian Perspective

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What is the role of culture in human experience? This introductory cultural anthropology text helps students understand and discern this crucial issue from a Christian perspective. The book covers standard cultural anthropology topics with special attention given to issues of concern to Christians, such as cultural relativism, evolution, and missions. It offers a fresh, contemporary approach to cultural anthropology, incorporating the most recent theory and language in the discipline.

This concise yet solid introduction represents the authors’ years of experience in the classroom (more than twenty years combined) and fits a variety of courses, including anthropology, sociology, Christian ministries, intercultural studies, and missions. It will also be useful for current or future missionaries. Each chapter includes learning objectives, text boxes, terms, and discussion questions. In addition, plentiful maps, photos, and sidebars are sprinkled throughout the text.

This book is accompanied by free online resources. Click the red eSources banner above for more information.

  1. The Discipline of Anthropology
  2. The Concept of Culture
  3. Language
  4. Social Structure and Inequality
  5. Gender and Sexuality
  6. Production and Exchange
  7. Authority and Power
  8. Kinship and Marriage
  9. Religion and Ritual
  10. Globalization and Culture Change
  11. Theory in Anthropology
  12. Anthropology in Action


"Introducing Cultural Anthropology has much to offer. Each chapter includes clear learning objectives, chapter outlines, brief but clear presentations of complex anthropological concepts--including culture, the nature of descent, and cultural theory--mixed with a biblical perspective on all these issues. The authors also bring themselves to the text, sharing their cultural experiences in dispersed fieldwork sites, their Christian values, and even their families--a true mix of culture and life. The chapters on religion and globalization are brilliant and all chapters are informative and challenging. I happily commend this book for use in college classrooms as well as missional training--students and all who anticipate ministry, whatever the context, will benefit."--R. Daniel Shaw, senior professor of anthropology and translation, School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary

"For Christian students just starting their journey into anthropology, this is a good place to start. Written to be a text for undergraduate courses, Introducing Cultural Anthropology is short, readable, interesting, and covers the territory quite well. The final chapter will be especially helpful for those wondering whether or not anthropological study is helpful as a part of preparation for life."--Charles Kraft, professor emeritus of anthropology and intercultural communication, School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary

"This engagingly written book is the most up-to-date introduction to cultural anthropology for Christians currently available. The authors summarize contemporary social theory and offer their own research and experiences on the field as an invitation to see the world anthropologically. Readers are helped to reflect on biblical themes in the light of anthropological realities and are encouraged to apply what they learn to a wide variety of work and ministry settings around the world."--Robert J. Priest, professor of anthropology, Taylor University

"Finally--an anthropology textbook with a balanced Christian approach that covers all the basic anthropological topics in a captivating yet academic manner. Professionally written and well presented to enhance learning, I eagerly await this new textbook and plan to use it in my introductory anthropology classes."--Jon Arensen, professor emeritus of anthropology, Houghton College

"This unique text will help students understand the increasingly interconnected world, while also giving them the tools to deal with the practical and ethical issues that our world presents. It also gives the reader a glimpse into the lives of a little-known species--the Christian anthropologist."--Michael Jindra, Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs, Boston University

"Howell and Paris have done us a huge favor. Their timely Introducing Christian Anthropology will be a tremendous help to Christian educators and students alike. This textbook covers a comprehensive spectrum of contemporary anthropological topics ranging from conceptual considerations of 'culture' to concrete examinations of power structures, and it does so in an attractive and understandable format that will facilitate fruitful learning. Quite honestly, each chapter was my favorite until I read the next one!"--J. Nelson Jennings, mission pastor and consultant, Onnuri Community Church, Seoul, South Korea

"Introducing Cultural Anthropology provides an exceptional resource for helping students contextualize sometimes difficult anthropological topics such as culture, sexuality, and power with Christian faith. This integrative book updates previous offerings in anthropology, and does so in a way that is eminently readable and accessible to the student. Each author brings a distinct voice to the text which helps the reader feel they are on a collegial journey with excellent guides. Highly recommended!"--Matthew S. Vos, professor of sociology, Covenant College

"Howell and Paris have provided an introductory text for cultural anthropology that is not only well-written, informative, and interesting, but also unique in bridging the gap between this secular discipline and Christianity. Theological excursions into subjects relevant to Christians, devotional exercises for contemplating the full significance of human life in biblical terms, and personal accounts of the paradoxes of the working life of Christian anthropologists are interwoven with clear and penetrating explanations of anthropological concepts. In all this, the authors are faithful both to Christianity and anthropology. This book will provide much food for thought to Christians interested in discovering the value of anthropology for life, ministry, and practice."--Eloise Hiebert Meneses, professor of cultural anthropology, Eastern University; author of On Knowing Humanity

"This clearly written and well-organized text provides an insightful examination of cultural anthropology in a manner that encourages the integration of faith and learning. One of the most definitive ways that such integration manifests itself is through the authors' strategic placement of biblically based devotions at the conclusion of each chapter that help to facilitate further reflection on the major concepts discussed within the particular chapter from a Christian perspective. In addition, the inclusion of field and research illustrations from the authors' experiences as anthropologists as well as highlights from the experiences of other Christian anthropologists contribute depth and transparency to the systematic discussion of anthropological theory, concepts, and practice in the text. This is a needed resource within Christian higher education, and I highly recommend its use in introductory anthropology courses."--Katrina T. Greene, associate professor of anthropology and intercultural studies, Biola University

"The authors provide a concise and clearly written text that examines cultural anthropology from a Christian standpoint. Each chapter presents the subject matter in a form that preserves conventional scientific perspectives while viewing the subject through a Christian lens. This book fills a niche not previously addressed by the panoply of anthropological textbooks currently available."--Paul Langenwalter, assistant professor of archaeology and anthropology, Biola University

"Howell and Paris's text is neither an introductory anthropology text with a bit of Christianity sprinkled on top nor a Christian devotional dabbling in cultural anthropology. Scholarly, critical, and passionately Christian, this text is a rich dialogue growing out of the life and work of particular Christians who have found great value from the lessons to be learned in the discipline of cultural anthropology. It is at once confessional and professional, reflexive as well as capturing succinctly the special contributions of the discipline of cultural anthropology. Special kudos for tackling head-on the tensions and difficult points of contact between Christian communities and anthropological theory and research while simultaneously highlighting strong examples of synergy. This book should be in widespread use in all institutions of Christian higher education serious about the study of culture."--Jamie Gates, cultural anthropologist and director of the Center for Justice and Reconciliation, Point Loma Nazarene University

"Introducing Cultural Anthropology is a cogent, up-to-date, and well-crafted survey of the field. Students are challenged to think anthropologically about the human condition and to comprehend the important contribution the discipline makes to faithful Christian witness. Foundational anthropological concepts are presented lucidly alongside engaging stories of real-life anthropologists working in the field. This text is an invaluable resource for students who are committed to advancing the public good through the diverse vocations they pursue beyond the classroom."--James G. Huff Jr., associate professor of anthropology and associate director of the Human Needs and Global Resources program, Wheaton College

"Howell and Paris offer a compelling introduction to cultural anthropology from a Christian perspective, addressing theory, modern and postmodern ideas, globalization, and the practice of anthropology. This is an important book for Christians studying cultures and I recommend it to academics, missionaries, and NGO workers alike."--Calenthia S. Dowdy, director of faith initiatives, Philadelphia FIGHT Community Health Centers

The Authors

  1. Brian M. Howell

    Brian M. Howell

    Brian M. Howell (PhD, Washington University) is professor of anthropology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, where he has taught for over fifteen years and regularly teaches introductory anthropology courses. His research interests include the...

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  2. Jenell Williams Paris

    Jenell Williams Paris

    Jenell Paris (PhD, American University) is professor of anthropology at Messiah College, where she regularly teaches introductory anthropology courses. She has written numerous books, including Teach from the Heart: Pedagogy as Spiritual Practice,...

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"Evangelical Christians have long needed an introductory anthropology text designed especially for them, a text that introduces anthropological topics in ways understandable to the uninitiated, that takes Christians' concerns into account, and that demonstrates contemporary anthropology's relevance to them as people living, ministering, and serving in increasingly complex and multi-cultural situations. Introducing Cultural Anthropology . . . addresses this need beautifully. . . . Drs. Howell and Paris are ideal authors of such a text, and their personal backgrounds make the book especially useful not only for those considering preparation for frontier mission at home and abroad, but also for those who would like an accessible introduction to how anthropology treats certain topics today. . . . [The book] is well organized, with a good selection of topics. . . . It is hard to think of another recent work by Christians that so effectively introduces contemporary anthropology's central concepts, that addresses issues of practical relevance to evangelicals, and that familiarizes readers with the work of other Christian anthropologists who are modeling ways of being loyal to their faith while engaging with the mainstream of their discipline. . . . I highly recommend it not only for the undergraduate students it addresses but also for more advanced readers who desire an accessible introduction to how anthropologists think today, the topics they address, and how that may help their lives, work, and ministry."--Edwin Zehner, International Journal of Frontier Missiology

"There has been a long-standing need for an introductory textbook in cultural anthropology that will meet the needs of first and second-year college students studying in a Christian college setting. . . . Here is a textbook Christian professors can use without fear of having to confront hostile or offensive assaults on Christian beliefs or values. . . . Each chapter begins with a clear set of course objectives and ends with a complete list of important anthropological terms and corresponding definitions. The authors have liberally illustrated key concepts by referencing the outstanding work of Christian anthropologists working in the field and have generously added sidebars or included within the main text relevant implications for a better understanding of portions of scripture and their application for Christian living. For professors wanting still further occasion for discussion, each chapter ends with several scripture passages with corresponding thoughts to generate additional occasions for the integration of faith and learning. Throughout the text, the authors have studiously presented anthropological topics free from ideological biases."--Douglas Hayward, Evangelical Missions Quarterly

"Introducing Cultural Anthropology communicates a comprehensive introduction to topics central to the discipline of cultural anthropology. The discussions of the pertinent theories, fields, concepts, and anthropological processes covered are thorough and certainly reflect anthropology as a discipline. . . . [The book] is also very well structured. The content is presented in a logical progression and includes a helpful outline at the beginning of each chapter. . . . Howell and Paris certainly achieved their goal of creating a strong anthropological text that does not read as anthropology in the light of missiological implications."--M. David Sills, Great Commission Research Journal

"The authors' particular experiences in American urban ministry and college short-term missions lend great insights and provide rich examples for various anthropological topics. . . . The clear Christian perspective and the practical ministry applications of cultural anthropology given in the book are outstanding. Teachers and students alike will find the end of each chapter beneficial as they provide useful resources. . . . The authors cover all the major topics of cultural anthropology while maintaining quality and focus. . . . This book is a must-have for students of any level in cultural anthropology, and especially for those who are in a Christian institution. It is an excellent way to expose undergraduate students to the field of cultural anthropology as well as being a helpful review of concepts for graduate students."--Daniel Shinjong Baeq, Trinity Journal

"Missionary encounters require a more-than-superficial understanding of cultures and a more-than-token respect for persons, and this fine book offers both a timely corrective to some earlier prejudices and an abundance of good sense. It provides a huge amount of information and practical assistance for anyone engaging with the life experience of people of different cultures and convictions. . . . I heartily recommend this book for undergraduates. Theology built on poor anthropology will do much more harm than good; this book can prevent such harm and do much good."--Anthony Gittins, Missiology

"This is an excellent textbook that uses a Christian lens to introduce undergraduate students to the field of cultural anthropology. A primary strength of this book is that it introduces cultural anthropology to students who have no background or experience with the subject. The book explains key concepts and gives a helpful list of definitions at the end of each chapter. . . . This text will be particularly useful for theology and ministry students who are hoping to learn cultural anthropology for community-engaged ministries or mission work or for students at Christian colleges and universities who are hoping to connect their coursework to faith-based vocational callings."--Melissa Browning, Religious Studies Review