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Photograph of a man

Image description: A man with a white mustache wearing glasses and a green plaid shirt smiles at the camera.
Caption: William Taft Stuart


William Taft Stuart was born on April 12, 1939, in Hornell, New York. He died on August 13, 2020, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is remembered for his dedication to his students, and his warm collegiality toward his colleagues.

Stuart earned his BA in sociology in 1961 from The George Washington University. He earned his PhD in anthropology from the University of Oregon in 1971. His dissertation, “Cultural Ecology: Prolegomena to a Natural Science of Society,” explored the social organization of Gilbertese Islanders, who had been resettled twice in the course of the twentieth century, partly as a consequence of US activities during World War II. The southern Gilbertese had diverse cross-cutting social obligations to each other, which had been characterized as “structural looseness.” Stuart explained their varying social obligations through their resettlements and their ability to adapt traditional ideas of mutual obligation to the interdeterminancy of the situation they were thrust into. He became an assistant professor of anthropology Academic Appointments at UMD at the University of Maryland in 1973 and retired in May 2016.

Stuart was active in teaching and applying anthropology for over 40 years and has become a noteworthy advocate for a multiparadigmatic approach to the study of culture. He was a strong advocate for the development of talented students and was the principal architect for the NGO the Center for Excellence in Education while working for Admiral H. G. Rickover, US Department of the Navy, in the early 1980s. From 1983 to 1986 he served as director of the Research Science Institute (formerly Rickover Science Institute), Center for Excellence in Education (formerly Admiral H. G. Rickover Foundation). From 1999 through 2016 he worked as a research consultant for the Center for Excellence in Education, Vienna, Virginia, as well as the director, Research Science Institute (RSI), Center for Excellence in Education. In 2013, the Center for Excellence in Education presented him a lifetime achievement award for his long-term dedication to the organization.

An expert in the areas of comparative religion, human behavioral ecology, and the history and philosophy of ideas, Stuart always encouraged his students to explore both the scientific and humanistic aspects of anthropology because both are essential to understanding and explanation. In recent years, he became well-known for his work on comparative religions and cults. He taught courses on the “Anthropology of Religion” for the Anthropology Department at the University of Maryland as well as courses for the university’s honor’s program titled “Religion, Ethnocentrism, and Terror” and “Converts and Apostates,” which tended to draw students from across the campus.

Stuart served as the director of undergraduate studies in anthropology from 1985 to 2005 and as the department’s honor’s program director from 1995 to 2010. He was the University of Maryland, College Park, representative to the Council of University System Faculty (CUSF), 2004–2012, serving as chair in 2008–2009, and vice-chair 2009–2010.

Stuart served for many years as the University of Maryland’s Phi Beta Kappa coordinator for spring initiates into the national honor society. This was another way he served outstanding Maryland undergraduates.

(Mark Leone and Paul Shackel)

Cite as: Leone, Mark and Paul Shackel. 2020. “William Taft Stuart.” Anthropology News website, September 18, 2020. DOI: 10.14506/AN.1502