What role does culture play in social life? A distinguished anthropologist restates the paramount question of his discipline and offers some brilliant conjectures. Hominization shows that the traits that were thought unique to homo sapiens (tools, language, social organization) not only preceded him, but contributed to the biological evolution which culminated in sapiens. Culture is, therefore, necessary not merely to man's survival but to his existential realization. How should it be properly studied? The starting point for a theory of culture, Geertz tells us, is a conception of thinking as a social act: a traffic in significant symbols. Groups employ machineries of meaning to orient themselves in the world. Only after having understood these programs for the regulation of behavior can we legitimately relate culture to social structure. This is precisely what the different ""sociologies"" -- of religion, ideology, and knowledge -- fail to do. But anthropology comes to the rescue. It gives us access to the conceptual worlds of peoples so that we can, in an extended sense of the term, converse with them. Geertz calls it ""thick description"": a scientific phenomenonology of culture that is different from the all too cerebral puzzle-solving of Levi-Strauss. Geertz applies this semiotic perspective to the study of ritual, religion, and world-view in various societies and analyzes the ideological ferment in the new states. These often eloquent, sometimes verbose, essays were written in the early '60's. The author has revised some of them for this volume, but in a more basic sense the book is surprisingly dated: it is steeped in functionalism of Parsonian vintage.