Professor Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah's anthropological work on Thailand and Sri Lanka has earned him the highest international acclaim through his original interpretation based on incisive field data analyses. Furthermore, his refined theory of rituals, magic, religion, state or identity has spread his influence far beyond the discipline of anthropology and made itself felt in the other social sciences and even in the humanities.
Born in Sri Lanka, Professor Tambiah, of Tamil descent, obtained his first degree from the University of Ceylon and his Ph.D. from Cornell University. From 1960, he served as a UNESCO Technical Assistance Expert in Thailand, carrying out the studies which were to have a great influence on his subsequent career. After his work in Thailand, he taught at Cambridge University and the University of Chicago until 1976 when he became professor of anthropology at Harvard. He has since been regarded as one of America's leading scholars in the fields of Asian Studies and Anthropology.
His trilogy of Thai Studies, consisting of "Buddhism and the Spirit Cults in Northeast Thailand" and two other monographs, is a work of detailed ethnography and historical anthropology. Its discussion of rituals, state, and charisma has earned it the status of a classic. In addition, the theoretical thoughts reflected in his "Culture, Thought and Social Action" and "Magic, Science, Religion and the Scope of Rationality", continue to influence theories of symbol and ritual.
In 1983, the intensified ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka marked a turning point for Professor Tambiah and led to a renewal of his Sri Lankan research, which had been interrupted by Thai studies and various professional commitments. Since then, he has actively voiced his opinions on the interplay between religion, politics and society in Sri Lanka, focusing on such factors as conflict, violence and Buddhism. At present, he is compiling his comparative studies of ethnic identity, ethnic conflict, and collective violence in South Asia.
One of anthropology's most distinguished scholars, he has been invited as a speaker for many influential lecture series and has received three honorary doctorates, an indication of how widely his academic achievements are recognized. Professor Tambiah is also a fellow of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 1989 became president of the internationally-active American Association for Asian Studies. His insightful scholarship, informed by a highly ethical sensitivity, has had both academic and social influence.
Professor Tambiah, born in Asia, as a scholar and intellectual, has made significant contributions to understanding and pursuing not only Asia's social problems but those of the greater world. His insight into the relationship between religion, ethnicity and national identity, makes him a worthy recipient of the International Academic Prize of the Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prizes.