Clifford Geertz (1926–2006) was born in San Francisco and grew up in rural California. He served in the US Navy during the war, and later, thanks to the GI Bill, studied English and philosophy at Antioch College and cultural anthropology at Harvard, where he worked with Talcott Parsons and Clyde Kluckhohn. With his wife Hildred, he was awarded a scholarship by MIT to conduct his first ethnographic studies on religion in Java, which supplied the material for his Ph.D. thesis in 1956.

In 1960, he became a professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago, where he wrote his first texts on symbolic anthropology and directed the multidisciplinary Committee for the Comparative Studies of New Nations. In 1970, he joined the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (NJ) as a professor of social science. Geertz floated and developed a School of Social Science based on interpretive social science together with Albert Hirschman and other scholars.

He alternated his ethnographic research in Muslim countries, first Indonesia and later Morocco, with his writings on the interpretation of cultures, on comparisons with developed countries, and on the practice of anthropology.