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

    This paper offers a window into social perspectives on religious beliefs and practices. In the first part of the course we focus on lived experiences in religious, spiritual, and magical lifeworlds. We examine symbol, myth, ritual, magic, witchcraft, shamanism, pilgrimage, ghosts, ancestors, and more. In the second part of the course we focus on the social context of religious and supernatural practice, using both classic and contemporary scholarship to consider the role of historical, economic, and political factors. We learn to apply a critical lens to tensions and debates in contemporary New Zealand, the Pacific, and elsewhere, for example about alternative medicine, the prosperity gospel, and secularism.

    While we survey key concepts 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, deconstructing key terms and reflexively assessing our encounter with the study of ‘religion’.

    About this paper

    Paper title Anthropology of Religion and the Supernatural
    Subject Anthropology
    EFTS 0.15
    Points 18 points
    Teaching period Not offered in 2024 (On campus)
    Domestic Tuition Fees ( NZD ) $981.75
    International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.
    ANTH 103 or ANTH 105 or 54 points
    ANTH 328
    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

    This paper is 100% internally assessed:

    1. Research Essay: Students are supported to select and develop their own research project, using a literature-based method or a component of fieldwork
    2. Two in-class short-answer/multiple choice tests
    3. A multi-part reflexive journal assignment, to be completed throughout semester

    The paper involves active learning and students are requested to read their required weekly readings before attending class.

    Required reading is from journal articles and book chapters available electronically through the library using course reserve.
    Course outline

    Will be available on Blackboard at the beginning of the course.

    Graduate Attributes Emphasised
    Global perspective, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Research.
    View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
    Learning Outcomes

    Students who successfully complete this paper will:

    • 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


    Not offered in 2024

    Teaching method
    This paper is taught On Campus
    Learning management system
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