Show/hide main menu

Level 5

5AAT2014 Religion in Different Social & Geopolitical Contexts - Anthropological Perspectives


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

Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Dr Katherine Swancutt
Assessment: One 2,000 word essay (40%), One two-hour exam (60%)

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

Teaching pattern: A one hour weekly lecture and a one hour weekly seminar over ten weeks
Pre-requisites: none

This module explores ethnographic literature and theory on familiar topics in the anthropology of religion. It highlights the importance of ethnographic research and the relevance of case studies. Students will become familiar with the main anthropological interpretations of symbolism, rites of passage such as initiations and death rituals, and the different ways that people relate to ancestors, spirits, gods and ghosts. The module encourages students to think in cross-cultural terms about such diverse topics as the links between childhood and the spirit world, shamanism and spirit possession, and pilgrimage and world renunciation. Questions such as how persons are made through religious experience, why certain objects are revered, and why persons take long arduous journeys to reach the sacred literally and metaphorically are explored.

Sample Topics

  • Ritual and the Life Course
  • Ancestors, Ghosts, Spirits, and Gods
  • The Making of Persons
  • Childhood, Learning, Youth and the Spirit World
  • Shamanism and Spirit Possession
  • Postcolonialism in Religious Experience
  • Pilgrimage and World Renouncers
  • Memory and Commemoration

Preliminary/Suggested Reading

  • Balzer, Marjorie Mandelstam (ed). 1997. Shamanic Worlds: Rituals and Lore of Siberia and Central Asia. New York: M.E. Sharpe.
  • Bell, Catherine. 1992. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. Oxford and London: Oxford University Press.
  • De Coppett, Daniel. 1992. Understanding Rituals. London: Routledge.

Further information

Module aims

It is expected that students become familiar with main anthropological interpretations of the topics discussed. It is also expected that students are able to critically assess and evaluate the literature consulted. In both examination and essay, they should demonstrate an ability to write clearly and consult a wide range of anthropological texts, their main focus should be on ethnographies relating to the topics.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • Develop further knowledge of theoretical and ethnographic approaches to the study of religious experiences.
  • Recognize conceptual domains of religious experience (symbols, healing, ritual) and discuss their delineation and theorization by different schools of thought.
  • Compare and contrast lived experiences of religion in different geopolitical and cultural settings.
Past syllabi
Previous syllabus document available here for academic year 2015-16.

Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year.


Sitemap Site help Terms and conditions  Privacy policy  Accessibility  Modern slavery statement  Contact us

© 2019 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454