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Ant/Rel/Soc 327 01:

Witchcraft, Magic and Religion: Anthropological Perspectives

Dr. Lisa Maya Knauer, Fall 2008
T/TH 11-12:15 p.m. Room: LARTS 107
Office: Group 1, Room 392-G
Phone: 999-8405 (office)

Office hours: T 2-4 p.m., R 9-11 a.m. or by appt.

email: lknauer@umassd.edu

This course will provide critical, cross-cultural and comparative perspectives on religion, magic
and witchcraft. We will examine how people in different cultures conceive of the supernatural
and the role that the study of religions, magic, witchcraft and sorcery has played in the formation
of anthropology as a scholarly discipline. We will both read classic and contemporary
anthropological accounts of religion, magic and witchcraft in Europe, Africa, America and
elsewhere, while critically interrogating those same anthropological writings.
We will start by surveying how scholars have defined religion, symbol and myth, and how the
study of the other (and his/her beliefs) has helped constitute anthropological knowledge. What
is religion? How do some practices and beliefs come to be defined as religions while others
are characterized as myth, sorcery or witchcraft (and do class, gender or race have anything
to do with that)? With this background, e will look at three in-depth ethnographic accounts in
some detail. We will then look at witch crazes or witch-hunts -- the persecution of certain
individuals accused of being witches or sorcerers -- in medieval Europe, colonial America,
and contemporary Africa. Finally, we will examine contemporary Wicca/neo-pagan religions.
The class is designed to meet the following University and departmental learning objectives:
Develop critical perspectives and analytic skills
Explore multi-disciplinary approaches to social science analysis and research
Promote global awareness, explore international/global perspectives

Develop understanding of power, privilege, and systems of inequality (including

race/ethnicity, gender, class)

Introduce a comparative perspective that addresses cultural and historical difference

Enhance collaborative learning
Exposure to ethnographic research methods
Develop and conduct a research project, translate research into a written form.
Course requirements

Participation and discussion papers

Short integrative essays
Group work (ritual project and discussion)
Fieldwork assignment
Research paper


This is a blended class. All students are required to use the online learning system MyCourses to
hand in their written work, and many reading materials are only available there. You MUST
activate your UMD email account so you can log into MyCourses. The MyCourses log in page
is: http://dartmouth.umassonline.net/index.cfm

If you have any trouble you have three options for getting help:

Send email to mycourseshelp@umassd.edu

Call the Student IT Service Center at 508-999-8884 during normal business hours.
(Mon-Fri 8:00am-5:00pm)
During the first two weeks of classes you can go to the Computer Center in the
basement of the library and someone there can help you.

Participation and Discussion papers

Once a week you will hand in a 1 page discussion paper. This is to be submitted by no later than
10 a.m. on MyCourses, and should cover the readings assigned for that day. These are not simply
summaries of the readings but an opportunity for you to critically synthesize, comment upon, and
raise questions or concerns about the material. If there are things you dont understand, this is the
place to let me know. I will try to read through the papers before each class so I can try and
address your questions. I will assign you a day, so that half the class will hand in discussion
papers on Tuesday (the A group) and half will hand in discussion papers on Thursday (the B
group). Late assignments will not be accepted; however, I will allow one make-up (if you miss a
Tuesday, I will allow you to hand in a paper on Thursdays readings, and vice versa). You can
make up one unexcused absence with an extra discussion paper.
Short integrative essays
There will be two 3-5 page essays due during the term. These are in lieu of mid-term and final
exams. I will give more specific guidelines, but basically these are opportunities for you to more
fully synthesize the concepts and materials we have discussed in class. The first short essay will
cover readings in the first half of the semester and the second essay will cover the latter readings.
Group Projects
Every student will be assigned to a small group (4-5 students). We will use these groups to break
down for small group discussions occasionally during the term. But the groups will also work on
two graded assignments: the ritual project, and leading a class discussion.
The ritual project involves inventing a culture and designing a ritual that reflects something
about that culture (values, beliefs, social organization, gender roles), or that somehow provides a
key to understanding the culture. The project is broken up into stages or components, and there
are deadlines for completing each component. The final projects will be presented in class at the
end of the semester; each group will have 7-10 minutes to present.
Each group will also be responsible for selecting a date and leading class discussion. You will
have 15 minutes to summarize, present, critique, debate the assigned readings. You can divide up
responsibility for specific chapters or articles; you can have 2 people summarize the readings and
the other two raise points for discussion.

Fieldwork assignment
The best way to learn anthropology is to do anthropology, and that means doing ethnographic
fieldwork. Cultural anthropologists acquire knowledge about peoples and cultures by observing,
talking and interacting with people as they go about the business of their lives. We call this
participant observation, and it is one of the hallmarks of anthropological research. Therefore,
everyone in the class will complete one small fieldwork assignment. You may choose to do a
fieldwork-based research paper (see the instructions for the research paper).
Basically, you will go to a place or attend an event that is religious or spiritual in nature (a house
of worship or ceremony from a religion other than your own, a secular ritual, a spiritual reader),
make some observations and then write up a short ethnographic description of what you saw. The
fieldwork assignment is due in November but you may hand it in earlier.
There are numerous houses of worship in New Bedford and Fall River, ranging from Catholic
services designed to meet the needs of specific ethnic communities (Portuguese, Latino, Cape
Verdean) to some non-mainstream Christian groups (the Scarlet Cord Spiritual Baptist Church on
Coggeshall Street) and non-Christian congregations (Jewish, Buddhist). Ranging a little further,
there are Vodun and Santeria priests and priestesses in Boston. I will post some ideas on the
MyCourses site but it is up to YOU to find a place or event and complete this assignment. If there
is interest, I will arrange an optional field trip to Salem. I will also try to let people know of any
religious events or ceremonies that might be of interest
Research paper
Each student will do an independent research project culminating in an 11-12 page research paper
due in early December. You may do a fieldwork-based project (primary research) or a
library/archival based project (secondary research). This can take several forms. You can study a
religion, spiritual practice, ritual, etc. that is not your own, utilizing anthropological methods and
perspectives. If you do a library project there are strict requirements in terms of the number
and type of sources that are acceptable (scholarly, not mass market, books, and articles in peerreviewed journals). If you do a fieldwork-based project, you still must make use of theoretical or
analytic approaches from the class and you will need to do some library research as well for
background and contextualizing information. You may collaborate with another student in which
case you will jointly submit a 20-23 page paper. There are several stages to this project
(preliminary proposal, revised proposal, final paper) and you must complete all of them. No
papers will be accepted unless I have approved your proposal. You will be assigned a peer-review
partner and you are responsible for reading and commenting upon his/her draft paper. If you
change topics without my approval you risk getting a failing grade on the paper.
There is a substantial amount of reading for this class. Unless specifically marked as optional
everything listed on the schedule below is required.
The following texts are required and are available at the campus store:
Arthur Lehman, James Myers, Pamela Moro. Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion: An
Anthropological Study of the Supernatural. 7th edition. (MWR)
E. Evans-Pritchard. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande. (abbreviated as WOMA)
Paul Stoller and Cheryl Olkes. In Sorcerys Shadow (Stoller)
Karen McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola: A Voodoo Priestess in Brooklyn. (ML)

All four books are widely used in anthropology and religion classes so they will have resale
value. I suggest you team up with someone in the class and share the books. Most other
required readings are electronic documents that will ONLY be available on MyCourses. A few
pieces are not available in electronic format and will be photocopied. It is your responsibility to
obtain the required materials and to keep track of what readings are due.
Expectations and policies
You must hand in your written assignments on MyCourses. Please activate your UMD
email account if you have not done. Updates to the syllabus, links for readings, and
copies of assignments will all be posted on MyCourses.
Please be on time, with cell phones and pagers turned off.
Do not leave early without clearing it in advance with me
Please do the reading before the class for which it is assigned.
Bring reading materials to class so we can refer to them during our discussions.
Take active part in class discussions. The discussion papers are meant to help frame class
discussions, not to check whether you have done the reading. If it is clear that people
are not doing the reading I will add more reading responses and adjust the grading.
Do not do your reading or homework for other classes.
Do not talk with your neighbor unless it is part of a class exercise. If you do not
understand something I say (or if you miss something), raise your hand and ask ME.
Since participation is an important part of your grade, attendance at all class sessions is
required. You are permitted two excused absences with no penalty. An excused absence
must be cleared IN ADVANCE (unless you can prove there was a documented
emergency situation) and requires written documentation. Valid reasons include court
appearances and medical emergencies. Regular medical appointments, vacations,
weddings, job interviews, studying for other classes are not legitimate excuses. I reserve
the right to treat any additional absences as unexcused regardless of the reason. All
unexcused absences will result in points off your final grade in the class (after 3
unexcused absences, I will lower your final grade by 1/3 of a letter grade for each
additional unexcused absence). If you miss a class it is YOUR responsibility to get notes
or updates from another student. Do not expect a private lesson from me
You are responsible for all handouts and keeping track of due dates.
All written work must be typed, double spaced, using 12-point Times Roman or an
equivalent typeface. There will be specific guidelines for the short essay, research paper
and fieldwork assignment.
Plagiarism (failing to cite your sources, using someone elses words or ideas as your
own) is a serious violation. All students are expected to be familiar with the Universitys
guidelines for Academic Honesty. Depending upon the seriousness of the offense, you
may receive a failing grade on the assignment or for the entire class. All instances of
plagiarism will be reported to the Dean.
I will not accept late work or grant extensions except under extraordinary circumstances
(an unforeseen and documented emergency or disaster that absolutely prevents you from
meeting the stated deadline). Poor time-management or competing academic or other
commitments are not sufficient reason.
Incompletes will only be granted under exceptional circumstances and if the student has
completed and received a passing grade on all other written work for the class
Communicating with the professor: Email or phone is fine; however, I do not check
my phone messages from off-campus so I will only respond to phone messages on the
days that I am on campus (TWR this semester). I generally respond to student emails as
soon as I read them . In most cases I will respond with 24 hours. Do me a favor: if you

write to me and say its important, please check YOUR email for the response. Theres
nothing more frustrating than writing a lengthy response to an urgent message from a
student, and then finding out a week later that the student did not bother to check his/her
email for the response.
I am happy to make time to talk with you. If my office hours are not convenient for you
please call or email me and we can make an appointment at another time. If you have to
cancel or if you will be late, call me promptly so that I do not sit around waiting for you
(believe it or not, I have other uses for my time).
If you are having trouble with any of the materials, assignments or anything else
PLEASE come see me, email me or call me. It is much easier for me to help you if you
come to me before whatever it is festers into a huge problem

Schedule of readings and assignments

T 9/2

Starting points:
anthropology and


in class

MWR Section 1 Introduction

Clifford Geertz, Religion (MWR 1)
M. Harris, Why We Became
Religious (MWR 2)
D. Lee, Religious Persp. in
Anthropology (MWR 3)
S.J. Gould, Non-Overlapping
Magisteria (4)

Introduction (via email,

due 10 am)

T 9/9


Disc Paper 1A

R 9/11


MWR Part II: Intro

Leonard & McClure The Study of
Mythology MWR 7)
John Beattie, Nyoro Myth (MWR 8)
Claude Levi-Strauss, Harelips and
Twins: The Splitting of a Myth
(MWR 9)
M. Douglas, Taboo (MWR
MWR Part II:
R. Firth, An Anthropologists
Reflections on Symbolic Usage
on MyCourses:
Santino, Yellow Ribbons and
Seasonal Flags
J. Abu-Lughod After the WTC
Marita Sturken, The Aesthetics of
Absence: Rebuilding Ground Zero,
American Ethnologist. Vol. 31, No. 3,
pp. 311 325 MyCourses
Jennifer Cole, Painful Memories:
Ritual and the Transformation of
Trauma Culture, Medicine and
Psychiatry 28, 2004: 87105.

T 9/16

The supernatural and

MWR Part 3:Intro

Discussion paper 2A

R 9/4

Discussion paper 1B
Extra credit: 1-2 page
paper reflecting on TV
coverage of Sept 11


R 9/18


T 9/23

Ritual specialists

R 9/25

Death and dying

T 9/30

Death and dying

V. Turner, Betwixt and Between

D. Gordon, Female Circumcision in
Egypt and Sudan: (MWR 14)
Michael Mason, I Bow My Head to
the Ground: Bodily Experience in a
Cuban-American Santeria Initiation
Ritual MyCourses
Optional: H. Miner, Body Ritual of
the Nacirema (MWR)
From MWR Section 3
Barbara G. Meyerhoff, Return to
Wirikuta (MWR # 15)
Roy A. Rappaport, Ritual Regulation
of Environmental Relations Among a
New Guinea People MWR #16)
Bruce Lincoln Two Notes on
Modern Rituals, Jl of the Am. Acad.
of Religion, Vol. 45, No. 2. (Jun.,
1977), pp. 147-160 MyCourses
Clifford Geertz, Ritual and Social
Change: A Javanese Example.
Everyone must read:
MWR Part 4 Intro.
Turner, Religious Specialists
Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, Training
for the Priesthood (MWR #22)
Howells, The Shaman (MWR #20)
And one of these:
Brown, Dark Side of the Shaman
Michael Harner, The Sound of
Rushing Water (MWR#26)
Jane Atkinson, 1987. The
Effectiveness of Shamans in an
Indonesian Ritual American
Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 89,
No. 2. (Jun., 1987), pp. 342-355 My
Margery Wolf, The Woman Who
Didnt Become a Shaman. American
Ethnologist Vol. 17, No. 3, (Aug.,
1990), pp. 419-430 My Courses
MWR Section 8 Ghosts, Souls, and
Ancestors Introduction and all 6
articles, #39-44, pp. 309-342)
All readings on MyCourses
David W. Plath, Where the Family of
God Is the Family: The Role of the
Dead in Japanese Households
American Anthropologist, Vol. 66, No.
2. (Apr., 1964), pp. 300-317.
Beth A. Conklin, "Thus Are Our
Bodies, Thus Was Our Custom":
Mortuary Cannibalism in an

Discussion paper 2B

Discussion Paper 3A

Preliminary proposal
Discussion paper 3B
Discussion paper 4A
Ritual Project: name of

R 10/2

Magic, witchcraft,
Some definitions
Everyone must read
Intro and Malinowski,
then select two other

T 10/7

Ritual project

R 10/9

Witches, oracles,

T 10/14

Social function of
Becoming a witchdoctor
Sorcery in Africa today

R 10/16
T 10/21
R 10/23
T 10/28
R 10/30
T 11/4
R 11/6
T 11/11
R 11/14
T 11/18
R 11/20
T 11/25

Anthro & sorcery

Old and new
Vodou and healing
Veterans Day
Vodou, gender, power
Religion and healing
Ritual project

Amazonian Society American

Ethnologist, Vol. 22, No. 1. (Feb.,
1995), pp. 75-101.
Kenneth Kensinger, DISPOSING OF
SOCIETY. Latin American
Anthropology Review 5(2): 57-60.
Thomas Lynch, Funerals-R-Us.
Reprinted from Harpers
MWR Intro to Section 7
Naomi M. McPherson, Sorcery and
Concepts of Deviance Among the
Kabana, West New Britain. (MWR
E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Consulting the
Poison Oracle (MWR 36)
Bronislaw Malinowski, Rational
Mastery by Man of His Surroundings
(MWR 37)
George Gmelch, Baseball Magic
(MWR 38)
Isabelle Nabokov, 2000. Deadly
Power: A Funeral to Counter Sorcery
in South India. American Ethnologist
27(1): 147-168 MyCourses
Schippers and Van Lange, The
Psych. Benefits of Superstitious
Rituals in Top Sport Journal of App.
Socl Psych., 2006, 36, 10: 25322553
Group work on ritual project
Professor is at a conference
WOMA Introduction, Chs 1-3

Discussion Paper 4B

WOMA Ch 4-7

Revised proposal
Ritual project: culture
Discussion paper 5A

WOMA Ch 8, 12, 13

Discussion paper 5B

Stoller pp. 3-66

Short essay 1

Stoller part I sections 13-21

Stoller parts II and III
Stoller Part IV-V

Ritual project: symbol

Disc Paper 7A
Disc Paper 7B

MWR Part 6 Intro plus 29, 30

Mama Lola Intro and Ch 2
No class
Mama Lola Ch. 4 and 6
Mama Lola Ch 8
Film: Odo Ya
Professor at a conference
Each group has 7-10 minutes to

Disc Paper 8A
Disc Paper 8B
Research paper draft
Ritual project: myth
Peer review of paper due
Final write up on project
due at midnight

R 11/27
T 12/2

The witchcraze in
Everyone must read at
least one article for
group discussion

R 12/4
T 12/9

R 12/11

Witch-hunts in colonial
Witchcraft accusations
in contemporary Africa

Wicca and neopaganism

Everyone must read at
least two articles: divide
up readings in your
small groups

T 12/16

Second short essay due

All readings on MyCourses
Yehuda Ben Nachman, The European
Witchcraze of the 14th-17th centuries
The American Journal of Sociology,
Vol. 86, No. 1. (Jul., 1980), pp. 1-31
Anderson and Gordon, Witchcraft
and the Status of Women The Case
of England. British Journal of
Sociology 29(2), June 1978
William Blecourt, The Making of the
Female Witch Gender and History
12(2), May 2000: 287-300
Readings from Levack
Andrew Ashforth, An Epidemic of
Witchcraft? The Implications of AIDS
for the Post-Apartheid State African
Studies Vol. 61, No. 1 (2002)
T. M. Luhrmann, The Goat and The
Gazelle: Witchcraft. (MWR 35)
Wendy Griffin, The Embodied
Goddess: Feminist Witchcraft and
Female Divinity Sociology of
Religion, 56 (1) Spring, 1995: 35-48
D. Jorgensen and S. Russell,
American Neopaganism J. for the
Sci Study of Religion 1999, 38(3): 325338 MyCourses
J. Bloch Individualism and
Community in Alternative Spiritual
Magic J. for the Scientific Study of
Rel. 1998 37(2): 286-302
C. Fry, Goddess Ascending: Feminist
Neo-Pagan Witchcraft. Journal of
Pop. Culture MyCourses
Second short essay due

Discussion paper 9A

Research paper due

Fieldwork paper due

Discussion paper 9B
Last day of class,
attendance mandatory
If you are absent I will
not accept your second

second short essay