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ANTH328 Anthropology of Religion and the Supernatural

An advanced anthropological study of religion and the supernatural, providing critical, cross-cultural and comparative perspectives of human belief systems.

ANTH 328 offers an overview of the forms of religious belief, gods and supernatural forces, as well as myth, ritual, magic, witchcraft, shamanism, pilgrimage and the social organisation (and development) of religion. We consider death and the afterlife, specifically ghosts, souls and ancestors, as well as extraordinary phenomena (such as ghostly apparitions and extraterrestrial contact) and the fascination they evoke in the contemporary world. We begin with 'classical' anthropological theories of culture and religion, before shifting to reflect on the writings of more contemporary scholars. The paper draws on contemporary ethnographic and ethnohistorically or archaeologically documented religious structures, ritual specialists and ceremonies. While we survey key concepts and ideas in the anthropology of religion, we also attempt to cultivate a particular way of thinking about the world, the supernatural, and our assumptions about it, reflexively assessing our encounter with the 'study' of 'religion'.


This paper is offered in yearly rotation with ANTH 325.

Paper title Anthropology of Religion and the Supernatural
Paper code ANTH328
Subject Anthropology
EFTS 0.1500
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2019
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $886.35
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $3,766.35

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18 200-level ANTH points or 108 points
ANTH 228
Schedule C
Arts and Music
This paper is designed for students with and without strong backgrounds in Anthropology.
Teaching staff

Dr Susan Wardell

Paper Structure
Internal assessment:
  1. Research Essay: Explore and assess one of the belief systems examined in class, either using a literature based method or including a component of fieldwork
  2. An in-class short-answer/multiple choice test
External assessment: Short-essay end-of-semester examination

The paper involves active learning and students are requested to read their required weekly readings before attending class.
Teaching Arrangements
One 2-hour lecture and one 1-hour tutorial per week.
Required reading is from journal articles and book chapters available electronically through the library using course reserve.
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Research.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
  • Understand some of the seminal anthropological approaches to the study of religion and the supernatural
  • Evaluate approaches to the study of symbols, myths and rituals and be able to provide ethnographic examples
  • Critically discuss contemporary anthropological debates surrounding the study of religion and the supernatural (including reflexivity, re-enchantment, secularisation, and syncretism)
  • Gain proficiency in the use of critical thinking skills in the assessment of analytical texts on religion and ritual
  • Enhance research and academic reading skills, the use of central concepts and approaches to the study of religion and society, and develop a comparative approach to cultural and social difference in the context of religion
Course outline

Available at the beginning of the semester in which the paper is offered.

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Not offered in 2019

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system