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What is religion? What purpose does it serve? How does it vary across cultures? Why is it growing rapidly in many parts of the world despite predictions of its inevitable decline? And how does it relate to politics in a diversity of social systems? In this subject, we explore the symbolic systems and ritual practices that people throughout the world have used to make sense of their place in the social world, the political order, the environment, and the cosmos. Students learn core anthropological approaches to the study of religion by exploring topics that may include images of mythic order and social transgression; the divergent functions of trance and shamanic practice; the roles of messianic religion in movements for social change; the meanings and functions of contemporary pilgrimage; the relationships between occult movements and the rise of shadow economies; and the uses of religious conceptions in contemporary debates about large-scale mining and climate change. Special attention will be paid throughout to the relationship between religion and politics.
Intended learning outcomes
On completion of this subject students should:
- have an advanced understanding of the key concepts and theoretical debates that have shaped the anthropological study of religion;
- have a clear sense of how those debates have shifted over time;
- be sensitive to the broad range of perspectives that anthropologists bring to bear on religious phenomena (psychoanalytic, structural-functional, symbolic, socio-economic);
- have an appreciation of the diverse manifestations of religious thought and practice in ethnographic settings as diverse as Africa, South America, North America, and Asia;
- have developed an interdisciplinary and comparative perspective on religious phenomena that allows for in-depth analysis of contemporary religious practices;
- be able to communicate in a variety of written and oral formats and to collaborate effectively in groups with people whose disciplinary and cultural backgrounds may differ from their own.
Last updated: 30 July 2023