In Memoriam  Ellsworth Faris, 1874 - 1953


Professor Ellsworth Faris, professor emeritus of the department of sociology of the University of Chicago, of which he was the second chairman; second editor of the American Journal of Sociology; former president of the American Sociological Society (1937) and father of Robert E. Lee Faris, chairman of the department of sociology of the University of Washington, died on December 19, 1953. He was associated with the University of Chicago as graduate student, alumnus, and teacher, for more than forty years—from 1911 until the day of his death.

Ellsworth Faris was born in Salem, Tennessee, on September 30, 1874. In 1894, he was graduated from Texas Christian University and in the late fall of 1896 was appointed to open a mission in the Belgian Congo for the Foreign Christian Missionary Society of the Disciples of Christ. He went back to Africa to study the people and their social changes in 1932–33 and again in 1949.

His African experiences were of very great significance in his writing and teaching. In his course "Social Origins," he related sociology and ethnology, challenging the works of Herbert Spencer, Lévy-Bruhl, and Sigmund Freud regarding the nature of so-called "primitive man." For this designation he suggested as a substitute the term "pre-literate" (The Nature of Human Nature and Other Essays in Social Psychology [New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1937], p. 252). His analysis of the difference between a society with books and literature and a preliterate society, original and deeply penetrating as it was, made a vitalizing contribution to sociological thought.

When he came back from Africa in 1904, he entered with vigor upon a new phase of his career, as associate editor of the Christian Courier and as professor of philosophy and psychology at his Alma Mater. In 1911 he came to the University of Chicago as a Scholar in psychology, continued as a Fellow in philosophy, and won his Ph.D., magna cum laude, in 1914. For a time he moved back and forth between the University of Chicago and the State University of Iowa and between philosophy and psychology—a fitting training for his appointment to a professorship in sociology in 1919 to succeed Professor W. I. Thomas. At the University of Chicago Ellsworth Faris had, at the age of forty-five, found his niche; in sociology, his métier.

In 1925 he succeeded Albion W. Small as chairman of the department of sociology and anthropology. He was instrumental in having Fay Cooper-Cole, then of the Field Museum, called to the university to found a separate department of anthropology. This separation, in 1929, led to the growth of two strong departments where there had been but one before, two departments which have collaborated perhaps even more closely be-cause of their formal separation. In 1926 Professor Faris also succeeded Professor Small as editor of the American Journal of Sociology. In 1936 he handed the editorship over to Professor Ernest W. Burgess. The chairmanship he held until his retirement in 1939, when he was succeeded by Professor William Fielding Ogburn, now an emeritus member of the department of sociology.

His chairmanship was a time of growth in numbers of workers and in specialization in the social sciences generally and in the department of sociology of the University of Chicago. In the thirty years before he had become its chairman, the department of sociology and anthropology had granted the Ph.D. degree to 68 persons (6 of them women); in the fourteen years of his chairmanship an almost equal number, 64, were granted.

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He encouraged his students to wide reading of literature chosen with reference to the essence of their interests rather than by conventional departments and by the accident of being written in the English language. His seminars of the 1920's read together Boven's translation of Pareto, Traité de sociologie générale—not the original Italian, but the then current French version that preceded the English translation called Mind and Society by about twenty years—and Durkheim's then untranslated Les Règles de la méthode sociologique, Éducation morale, and Le Suicide; as well as the works of Halbwachs, Mauss, and Lévy-Bruhl.

After his retirement he was, for the year 1941-42, president of the Adult Education Council of Chicago. He took part, actively although informally, in many academic and public affairs. Indeed, three weeks before hedied, he participated in the discussion of the current problems of Africa held on the University of Chicago campus by the Norman Wait Harris Foundation.

The published work of Ellsworth Faris is nearly all written in what was his favorite form, and one in which he excelled, the imaginative, but sharp, trenchant, and clear essay. He gathered thirty-two of them together in his book The Nature of Human Nature. The headings under which he grouped them in the book show the foci of his intellectual and human interests: the group and the person; conduct and attitudes; sociology and education; sociology and ethnology; and the sociology of racial conflict. Among his most outstanding papers is his discussion of the problem of instincts, summed up in his paper, "Are Instincts Data or Hypotheses?" (American Journal of Sociology, XXVII [1921-22], 184–96), and The Nature of Human Nature, pp. 61–72), also "The Sect and the Sectarian" (in The Nature of Human Nature, pp. 46–60) and "The Subjective Aspect of Culture" (Publications of the American Sociological Society, XIX [1925], 37–46). His pointed criticisms of concepts, of books, and of whole systems of thought which he considered wrong or pretentious are models of lucid, incisive scholarly writing.


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