Royal Anthropological Institute or Royal Academy? Post-Modern Anthropology as Contemporary Art

It has been widely argued that postmodern and cultural relativism are replacement religions in Romantic, neo-tribal tradition (e.g. Scruton 2000, Kuznar 1997) This article attempts to better understand the nature of postmodern anthropology by looking at it through the prism of Art. Following Scruton (2000), it argues that, since the Enlightenment, Art has performed a similar function to Christianity in many people’s lives and is accordingly a form of replacement religion. The article demonstrates that while modern forms of anthropology might be deemed ‘religious,’ the cultural relativist anthropology of Margaret Mead appears to be art whereas this is less clear with postmodern anthropology. The article argues that the boundaries between postmodern (or ‘contemporary’) anthropology and visual ‘Contemporary Art’ are essentially weak and that postmodern anthropology is usefully understood as exemplifying contemporary art. Accordingly, it has no place in scholarly discourse. It is a replacement religion by virtue of its artistic nature.