Culture within the boundaries of nature. Daniel Everett and Pirahã
In 1977, a young American missionary, David Everett, set off with his wife and small children to the wilderness of the Brazilian Amazon Jungle to convert a small tribe of Pirahã to the “right” faith. But the culture of “white man” failed miserably when confronted by nature. Everett never managed to explain the Christian doctrine to people living in the Amazon Basin. He could not even persuade them to learn to read and write. On the other hand, he became the first ever foreigner to learn the language of Pirahã. After three decades of living, though not continuously, in Amazonia, Everett lost his wife and his faith, abandoned his missionary activity, received a PhD in linguistics and became an academic teacher. Today, Professor Everett, drawing on analyses of the Pirahã language, questions one of the foundations of modern linguistics, the universality of recursion. Reversing the main topic of the conference in the title, I will try to demonstrate that Daniel Everett could not have managed to convert members of a small tribe to Christianity, because his cultural mission was not rooted deeply enough in nature.