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Level 4

4AAT1009 Introduction to the Anthropology of Religion


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Dr Katherine Swancutt
Assessment: one three-hour examination (100%).  Students are also expected to complete one formative essay.

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: one two-hour weekly lecture over ten weeks.
Pre-requisites: none

This course introduces students to the history and methods of socio-cultural anthropology, a discipline that developed for the purpose of cross-cultural research in Western and non-Western contexts. In the study of religion, anthropologists ask questions about the diversity of religious experience, symbols and organization through a specific set of methodological tools: long-term stay among the people (communities) studied, qualitative research and a written account called ethnography, committed to representing “the native’s point of view.” The course is a foundation for advanced courses in the second and third year.

Sample topics

  • Introduction to the discipline
  • Anthropological definitions of religion
  • Anthropological theories of religion
  • Methodology in social anthropology

Further information

Module aims
  • To introduce the history and theory of social anthropology
  • Develop an understanding of anthropological definitions of religion, and learn the distinctive methodology of social anthropology
Learning outcomes

Generic skills

  • Develop an ability to appreciate the ethnography as a genre of writing and interpreting the religious tradition of other cultures
  • Develop an ability to formulate research agendas
  • Develop an ability to present anthropological ideas in a coherent framework, using classroom discussion and oral presentation

Module specific skills

  • Recognise distinctive anthropological arguments about religious traditions
  • Recognise distinctive anthropological methods as tools to gather data on religious traditions
Past syllabi
Previous syllabus document available for download here for academic year 2015-16.
Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year.
Preliminary reading
  • Dresch, P. and James, W. (eds.) 2000. Anthropologists in a Wider World. New York: Bergham Books.
  • Lambek, M. (ed). 2008 . A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion. Oxford: 
  • Morris, B. 2006. Religion and Anthropology: A critical Introduction. London; New York: Routledge.
  • Bowie, F. The Anthropology of Religion, Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.


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