Gender is a prominent form of social difference worldwide; cultural notions of gender difference regulate individuals’ behavior, activities, social status, and access to material, cultural, spiritual, and political resources. This course explores how gender and sex are understood and experienced in different cultural contexts, focusing on people and cultures in countries we visit on our voyage. Students will learn how anthropologists approach the study of gender and sexuality, how gender and sexuality intersect with other categories of identity and difference, and how anthropology engages challenges to structures that support beliefs about gender, sexuality, bodies, desire, and identity and that constrain people’s lives, often in violent ways. The course provides students with frameworks and methodologies to identify and think critically about taken-for-granted notions about gender and sexuality, including those of their own culture. Course materials –which include theoretical essays, films, case studies, popular media and culture, art and literature—introduce students to a variety of notions of gender(s) and sexuality(ies) across cultures, and illuminate their impacts upon people’s lives, prospects, and opportunities for resistance. Students will conduct a short ethnographic research project focused on a specific aspect of gender and sexuality, based on observations in countries we visit during the voyage.
Field WorkCountry: Brazil
Date: November 10, 2019
Anthropologist Ruth Landes titled her 1947 ethnographic study of Candomblé in Bahia The City of Women, because of the central role played by women in this Afro-Brazilian religion, both as practitioners and symbolically. Yemanjá, the orixá associated with the sea, the mother spirit, and pregnancy, is one of the seven major orixás in Candomblé, and women priests (mai de santos) traditionally play central roles in Candomblé, through possession by the orixás. This field class explores the symbolic and actual roles of women in Candomblé, through a visit to a Candomblé temple (terreiro) and participation in terreiro activities. During our visit, we will have the opportunity to learn about the symbolic importance of the female spirit, and to discuss with a mai de santos the roles she assumes within Candomblé, and the importance of Candomblé in Afro-Brazilian women’s lives. Our participation in the activities of the terreiro will provide a corporeal sense of the action of the spirits upon practitioners. Meanwhile, representations of the orixás in Salvadoran life and culture, another aspect of this Afro-Brazilian religion that students will be asked to consider.
1. Learn about the history of Candomblé, and particularly of the role of women in the religion
2. Understand the connection between Yemanjá and contemporary women’s sense of self and empowerment
3. Gain an appreciation of the contemporary role played by women in Candomblé as well as the role played by Candomblé in their day to day lives and the lives of residents of Salvador da Bahia in general
4. Experience the sensory modalities of Candomblé through participation in terreiro activities the streets and plazas of Salvador point to the complicated position of Candomblé in the contemporary