The Anthropology of Religion [CRN 17835]

Discipline: Anthropology
Instructor: Johnson
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 1410
End: 1530
Field Work: Day 1 | February 29, 2020 | India
Prerequisites: One (1) introductory anthropology or cultures course Download Syllabus

This course explores cultural variations of religious experience. Throughout the semester, we will follow Rebecca and Phillip Stein’s textbook The Anthropology of Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft (2017, fourth edition) to survey key themes: religion as a cultural system, the social foundations of sacred experience, the ritual process, mythic enactments, religious taboos, spirit possession, religious conversion, and transnational spiritual networks. Throughout the semester we will circle back to central questions: What does it mean to act religiously? How are social inequalities naturalized or challenged through rituals and beliefs? How has the legacy of imperialism shaped local belief systems? Answering such questions requires an open-minded anthropological curiosity and a willingness to rethink what it means to be religious in a global context. Textbook readings will be enriched by ethnographic selections that closely follow our voyage. Among other subjects, we will study the impact of Islamic and Protestant conversion of Indian tribes, ghost hauntings in Vietnam after the American war, and New Age Orientalism framing Tibetan refugees and Global Buddhism. We will learn about how Asante Christian pastors in Ghana transform pre-colonial conceptions of social status and spiritual power. The readings will complement our travel experiences and deepen our empirical understanding of religion. We will approach these sensitive issues with both critical distance and sympathy for the personal nature of religious belief. The course will include an in-country field class, in which students will directly observe a religious community and connect their ethnographic experience with course materials.

Field Work

Country: India
Day: 1
Date: February 29, 2020

We will tour the religious diversity in Kochi. We will visit the Chottanikkara Hindu Goddess Temple in Kochi. The presiding goddess is worshiped in three forms throughout the day. The temple is famous for curing mental illness associated with spirit possession. We will speak with a temple priest about the process of spirit exorcism. After that, we will visit several other religious sites: the Paradesi Synagogue (the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth), St. Francis Church (the oldest European-built church in India), the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha (a Sikh temple), the Dharmanath Jain Temple, and the Cheraman mosque (believed to be the first mosque in India).

Learning objectives:
1. Experience, ethnographically,faith healing and the intersection of mental health and Hindu spirituality
2. Understand Hinduism as a lived, everyday practice
3. Compare the art and architecture of the two temples and place our observations in conversation with the course materials on spirit possession and everyday Hinduism
4. Analyze the overall religious diversity of India by touring several places of worship from different religious traditions, allowing us to compare different modes of religiosity