David Edwards Wins the American Ethnological Society’s Senior Book Prize

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, executive assistant; tele: 413-597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., October 24, 2018—David Edwards, the James N. Lambert ’39 Professor of Anthropology at Williams College, has been awarded the 2018 American Ethnological Society’s (AES) Senior Book Prize, given out biennially to a senior scholar for a work that “speaks to contemporary social issues with relevance beyond the discipline and beyond the academy,” according to AES. Edwards’ book, Caravan of Martyrs: Sacrifice and Suicide Bombing in Afghanistan, was published by University of California Press.

Scholars have examined the question of what compels a suicide bomber to give his or her life to a cause by focusing on the pathology of the “terrorist mind” or the “brainwashing” practices of terrorist organizations. In his book, Edwards argues that it’s necessary to understand the rise of suicide bombing in relation to the cultural beliefs and ritual practices associated with sacrifice.

Anne Allison, professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University and a member of the AES Senior Prize Committee, calls Edwards’ book “utterly original” and “compelling from beginning to end.”

“The ethnographic swath of this book is stunning,” notes Allison in her review. “Reaching back into Edwards’ earliest engagement with the region, the breadth and depth of terrain covered (with Afghan mujahidin, martyr magazines, Taliban poetry, 1,500 audiocassettes belonging to Osama bin Laden, Pakistani madrasas, Taliban Facebook friends) is breathtaking.”

AES is the oldest professional anthropological organization in the U.S. Founded in 1842, today the AES, a section of the American Anthropological Association, is a thriving group of more than 1,000 anthropologists, and it publishes the journal American Ethnologist.

Edwards joined the Williams College faculty in 1989. He received a B.A. from Princeton and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.


Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.