Wednesday, December 18, 2013
NEW COURSE! ANTH 6391: The Anthropology of Religious Movements
The Anthropology of Religious Movements
The Varieties of Religious Expressions: Movements, Mediation and Anthropological Mappings
Hortense Amsterdam House Seminar Room, Room 202
Prof. Attiya Ahmad
2112 G St., Room 102
This course takes as its point of departure today’s global proliferation of religious movements and media, and explores the following questions: What are the similarities and differences between India’s Hindutva movement, Christian Evangelical groups in the US, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East, and protests led by Buddhist monks in Myanmar? What role does mediation—in the form of the human body, religious texts, cassette sermons, television serials, and the internet--play in promoting, shaping, spreading and containing religious practices and belief? What are the interrelations between these religious movements and forms of mediation? What role can anthropology play in addressing these questions?
A seminar designed for students who want to learn about the myriad forms of religious expression in today’s world, this course consists of three thematic sections. In the first section we will explore various theorists’ attempt to carve out a universal category of religion and the ways in which this categorization has been problematized. We will examine writings that historicize the emergence of ideas such as ‘natural religion’ and ‘world religion’, and the ways in which uniformity and difference is established between phenomena encompassed by these terms, for example, how Islam and Christianity are both designated as religions but different forms thereof. As a counterpoint, we will examine how religious syncretism and conversion both reinforce and subvert distinctions drawn between different religious traditions. Through discussions of these issues, we will tease out how processes of colonial modernity and how western conceptual and analytical categories play a hegemonic role in shaping our understanding and approach to what is constituted and demarcated as ‘religion’. In the second thematic section, our class will examine how ‘religion’ comes to be separated out analytically from other categories of experience such as politics, economics, and the secular, and we examine how interrelations between these categories are reestablished. In the third and final thematic section, students will bring their sharpened analytic faculties to bear on contemporary religious expressions, and examine a variety of contemporary religious movements and media including the television serialization of the Ramayana and its influence on India’s Hindutva movements, cassette sermons and the ethical formation of subjects in Egypt, Pentecostal movie-making in Ghana, and Baptists' use of speech to preach in the US.