Spring 2000

Bruce Owens
Wheaton College
Knapton 122, (286-3659)

From Ayodhya to Waco, people have recently killed one another in the name of "religion" or "religious beliefs." In New York City, thousands celebrated the return of a stolen icon that is said to have wept. In Japan, Shinto priests performed elaborate rites before a jet fighter prototype to ensure the success of a U.S.-Japanese joint venture to manufacture sophisticated airborne weapons systems. Events such as these demand explanations, and many attempts to make sense of them reveal deep seated prejudices and unfounded assumptions. In this seminar we will consider how anthropology can contribute to our understanding of phenomena generally considered to be "religious."
The seminar will begin with close readings of major works that have helped define many of the theoretical debates concerning how religion might be defined and how religion and society are interrelated. We will apply these fundamental concepts about religion and religious phenomena in presentations of individual field observations of religious ritual. These readings and observations will be followed by readings and discussions of more recent anthropological attempts to understand religion in terms of how people live and think about their lives. We will first focus on interpreting the meaning of ritual and understanding its affect. We will then shift to examining interrelationships between systems of belief and ritual practice that are embraced by different peoples. We will then consider the analytical and socio-cultural challenges presented by contesting interpretations, conflict, and resistance as they are articulated through religious practices and beliefs.

Students will give class presentations and lead discussions concerning topics of particular interest to them during the latter half of the semester. These presentations will serve as a means of raising issues that lie outside the assigned readings, and will also serve the presenters as a way of getting feedback on their research that will aid them in the production of a final paper.

For more information and syllabi, contact Professor Owens at

Content by Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus, Assistant Professor of Religion
Designed by
David Dudek, 2001
Last Update 2.00