Religion and Society
Religion has been a field of enduring enquiry within the disciplines of Sociology and Anthropology. This course will introduce students to both classical and contemporary sociological and anthropological analyses of the beliefs, practices, and phenomena understood to be ‘religious’. We will examine notions of the sacred, rituals, beliefs, and religious symbols that have been central to anthropological and sociological understandings of religion. We shall also examine the ways in which magic, witchcraft and religion have been studied together in terms of their points of continuity and departures. These discussions will lead us to a critique of studying religion simply in its own terms, taking us to notions of modernity and secularity as well, in order to understand iterations of the religious in national and transnational contexts. In 1968, sociologist Peter Berger, like many of his fellow American and European sociologists, predicted that by the 21st century religion will have declined considerably in the world (if not died) and religious believers would be found “huddled” in small sects. About thirty years later, Berger retracted his secularization thesis: religion was very much present and, according to many sociologists, had in fact seen a resurgence all over the world. What does this tell us about religion, and about the relation between the religious and the secular? What does it tell us about the ways in which religion and secularity have been understood within the disciplines of sociology and social anthropology, and how have these approaches changed over time? This course situates itself within such conceptualisations of the religious, and debates around it, in order to offer a complex understanding of the religious with reference to the modern and the secular, in addition to the topics and themes mentioned previously. By the end of the course, students are expected to be well versed with broad sociological and anthropological approaches to religion; be able to complicate supposed demarcations between the religious and the non-religious; and analyse current and popular contentions around the religious.