Foundations I: The Anthropology of Religion

Course Description: 

Questions of religion have been central to anthropology from its beginnings and remain so today when religion (re)emerges as a global force. While the early scholarship perceived religious phenomena through the skeptical lens of secular science, recent critiques brought up anthropology’s own orthodoxies and the need for theoretical and methodological renewal. Every new paradigm took up the challenge to explain religion and its pervasiveness in human culture and society. The anthropology of religion emerged out of such creative tensions as a vibrant field of theoretical inquiry and impressive scholarship. The course is structured around major themes that shaped the study of religion: magic and rationality, belief, symbols, tradition and transmission, ritual, morality, media and mediation, secularism and modernity. They constitute focal points of intensive theoretical debates and, at the same time, core analytical categories in anthropological literature. We will examine these issues through a wide range of ethnographic work from various parts of the world. This will allow us to discover the varieties of religious phenomena and understand how key concepts emerged and have been applied to specific cultural settings. Apart from classical studies of local cults and small-scale societies, we will focus on world religions and their historical dynamic emerging from the tension between religious orthodoxies and charismatic authority. Following these examples we will also move from local processes to global movements, observing the religious-secular dynamics in concrete contexts.

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