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Sir James George Frazer Biography

(1854–1941), Encyclopaedia Britannica, Totemism, The Golden Bough, Totemism and Exogamy


British anthropologist, historian of religion, and classical scholar, born in Glasgow, where he obtained his MA at the University in 1874. In 1879 he became a fellow of Trinity College, where he remained in residence for most of his life. He was introduced to anthropology by his close friend Robertson Smith (184694), co-editor of the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (187589), for which Frazer wrote articles on ‘Taboo’ and ‘Totemism’ in 1885. Following the completion of Totemism (1887), his first independent publication of note, he began work on The Golden Bough (18901915). His many other related works include Totemism and Exogamy (4 volumes, 1910), The Belief in Immortality and the Worship of the Dead (1913), Folklore in the Old Testament (1918), and The Fear of the Dead in Primitive Religion (3 volumes, 19336). Frazer proceeded very largely by collating materials from a wide range of secondary sources, his achievement consisting in the synthesis of his findings into impressively orchestrated wholes. His tactful but none the less persuasive demonstrations of the social and historical determination of all religious worship were widely influential in the growing secularization of culture from the 1890s onward. His highly regarded work as a classical scholar includes his editions, with translations and commentaries, of Pausanius's Description of Greece (6 volumes, 1898) and Ovid's Fasti (5 volumes, 1929). He also edited The Letters of William Cowper (1912), whom he admired above others as a poet. He was knighted in 1914. J. G. Frazer: His Life and Work by Robert Ackerman was published in 1987.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Samuel Foote Biography to Furioso