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Prof. Dr. Georg Pfeffer (17 January 1943 - 20 May 2020)

28 May 2020
photo: Berit Fuhrmann
photo: Berit Fuhrmann

It is with deep sorrow that we have received the news of the death of Georg Pfeffer, who passed away on 20 May after a long illness.

We mourn the loss of a great teacher, colleague and friend. More than 50 years of dedicated scholarship have significantly contributed to the advancement of the anthropology of South Asia, especially to the study of the indigenous people of Central India. Georg Pfeffer was associate fellow of both research projects of this Center that deal with India, Religion, Culture and Society of Indian "Tribal" Communities and History and Theory of the Anthropology of India. He also inaugurated the Colloquium on Asian Religions on 22 September 2008 with his lecture on Experiencing Religion in South Asia.

Georg Pfeffer was an exceptional researcher and scholar, studying India and Pakistan, caste society as well as indigenous communities. His first ethnography, conducted in the late 1960s, concerned the “untouchable” sweepers of Lahore. His second fieldwork in the 1970s not only brought him to the “other end” of the caste hierarchy but also to the other side of the subcontinent. This research dealt with the religious elite, with Vedic Brahmans and their role in one of the most important religious centers of India, the Jagannath Temple of Puri in Odisha, at the Bay of Bengal. He then completely changed his research topic again and since the early 1980s devoted himself to the study of the indigenous (Adivasi) communities of highland Central India. 25 years of intermittent fieldwork on various communities followed, focusing in particular on religion, ritual and kinship. Perhaps his most important contribution lies in his comparative endeavor, as he worked out the general patterns of social structure and ideology that are shared by the various Central Indian indigenous peoples and at the same time constitute different distinctive cultural sub-complexes. Also after his retirement Georg Pfeffer continued this work and his last book provides a comparison of worldviews and social structures of indigenous peoples in the Americas, Australia and Central India.

Georg Pfeffer — one of the founding members of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) in 1989 — was professor of anthropology at the University of Heidelberg before taking up a professorship at the Free University of Berlin in 1985 where he taught and researched until his retirement in 2008.

For more information on his work and biography, as well as a complete list of his publications consult the FU website or the Festschrift in his honor.

We will miss his support, wit and warmth and our thoughts are with his family.

Peter Berger

Georg Pfeffer in the field (photo: Peter Berger)
Georg Pfeffer in the field (photo: Peter Berger)
Last modified:28 May 2020 8.05 p.m.

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