Anthropology of Religion

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					                              Anthropology of Religion
                                    Anthropology 4020

Cris Campbell
Blog: Genealogy of Religion (

        As a nearly universal practice, religion has played an especially prominent role in
human history, thought, and behavior. Despite this prominence, thoroughgoing attempts
to explain and account for religion are lacking. As an academic discipline, anthropology
is ideally situated to examine the origins, development, and maintenance of religious
belief and practice.

        In this course we will explore (1) the possible origins of religion during the course
of human evolution; (2) the supernatural beliefs and practices of hunter-gatherers and
small-scale societies; (3) the development and role of religion in stratified or complex
societies; and (4) the Axial Age and origin of “world” religions. At the end of the course,
we will briefly consider secularization, spiritualism, and atheism.

      Using genealogical methods similar to those developed by Nietzsche and
Foucault, we will examine the following topics in historical order of appearance:

       A.      Evolutionary Accounts of Supernatural Belief and Religion
       B.      Paleolithic Supernaturalism and Shamanisms
       C.      Neolithic Revolution and Organized Religion
       D.      The Axial Age and Origin of “World Religions”

        This course will make extensive use of my blog, Genealogy of Religion. In the
header section of the blog you will find a link titled “Resources.” Here you will find the
syllabus, readings, and other materials for the course. There are no books for this course;
all reading assignments are posted under the Resources tab. I recommend that you
download the readings and organize them into a digital folder or physical course-pack;
you will be expected to have the readings with you in class. Because I have previously
blogged about many things we will be covering in class, I encourage you to explore it in
depth. In addition, the blog contains links to other religion-related resources that you may
find useful. Depending on class interest, I may create a password-protected blog section
which we can collectively use as a forum for comments, notes, and class discussions.

                                       WEEK ONE

7/5:   Introductions, Expectations, and Course Overview

7/6:   Defining Religion – Knowing It When We See It

       Reading: “Sociological Definitions, Language Games, and the „Essence‟ of
       Religion” by Andrew McKinnon (2002)

7/7:   Naturalizing Religion: The Positivist-Materialist Framework

       Reading: “The Concept of the Supernatural in Primal Religion” by Ake
       Hultkrantz (1983)

7/8:   Evolutionism and Early Anthropological Approaches

       Readings: “Frazer on Myth and Ritual” by Robert Ackerman (1975)

       “Magic: A Problem in Semantics” by Dorothy Hammond (1970)

                                       WEEK TWO

7/11: Anthropology of Religion at Mid-Century

       Reading: “Religion” by Ruth Benedict (1938), in General Anthropology (ed.
       Franz Boas), Chapter XIV (pp. 627-665), available in multiple formats at:

7/12: Cultural Evolution of Religion

       Reading: “Religious Evolution” by Robert Bellah (1964)

7/13: Cognitive Science of Religion

       Readings: “A Cognitive Theory of Religion” by Stewart Guthrie (1980)

7/14: Biological Evolution of Religion

       Readings: “Darwin‟s God” by Robin Marantz Henig (2007)

       “Born Believers: How Your Brain Creates God” by Michael Brooks (2009)

7/15: Religion as Evolutionary Byproduct or Spandrel

       Readings: “Religion is Natural” by Paul Bloom (2007)

       “Exploring the Natural Foundations of Religion” by Justin Barrett (2000)

       “Religious Thought and Behavior as By-Products of Brain Function” by Pascal
       Boyer (2003)

                                    WEEK THREE

7/18: Religion as Evolutionary Adaptation and Design

       Readings: “Signaling, Solidarity, and the Sacred: The Evolution of Religious
       Behavior” by Richard Sosis and Candace Alcorta (2003)

       “Are There Any Religions: An Evolutionary Exploration” by Joseph
       Bulbulia (2005)

       “O Lord…You Perceive my Thoughts from Afar: Recursiveness and the
       Evolution of Supernatural Agency” by Jesse Bering and Dominic Johnson (2005)

7/19: Group Level Selection and Adaptive Design of Religion

       Readings: “The Religious Success Story” by Jared Diamond (2002)

       “The African Interregnum: The Where, When, and Why of the Evolution of
       Religion” by Matt Rossano (2009)

7/20: Supernaturalism as Sense-Making, Narrative, and Consciousness

       Reading: “The Epistemology and Technologies of Shamanic States of
       Consciousness” by Stanley Krippner (2000)

7/21: Paleolithic Supernaturalism

       Reading: “Middle Paleolithic Symbolism: A Review of Current Evidence and
       Interpretation” by Harold Dibble (1987)

7/22: Paleolithic Shamanism

       Reading: “Harnessing the Brain: Vision and Shamanism in Upper Paleolithic
       Western Europe” by David Lewis-Williams (1997)

                                    WEEK FOUR

7/25: Shamanic Healing and Political Economy

       Readings: “Shamans and Other Magico-Religious Healers: A Cross-Cultural
       Study of Their Origins, Nature, and Social Transformation” by Michael
       Winkelman (1990)

       “The Signs of the Sacred: Identifying Shamans Using Archaeological Evidence”
       by Christine van Pool (2009)

7/26: Ethnohistory and Ethnography of Hunter-Gatherer Supernaturalism

       Reading: “Religion of the North American Indians” by Paul Radin (1914)

7/27: Neolithic Revolution and Systematization of the Supernatural

       Reading: “Daily Practice and Social Memory at Çatalhöyük” by Ian Hodder

7/28: Stratification, Power, and Religion

       Reading: “The Politics of Ritual: The Emergence of Classic Maya Rulers” by
       Lisa Lucero (2003)

7/29: Politics and Religion: As It Is on Earth, So It Must be in Heaven

       Readings: “Ancient Mesopotamian Gods, Superstition, Philosophy, Theology”
       by Wilfred Lambert (1990)

       “Notes and Suggestions on the Early Sumerian Religion and Its Expression” by
       John Peters (1921)

                                     WEEK FIVE

8/1:   From City-State Polytheism to National-Imperial Monotheism

       Readings: “The Basic Aspect of Hittite Religion” by Giuseppe Furlani (1938)

       “Yahweh Becomes King” by Roy Rosenberg (1966)

       “Redescribing Graeco-Roman Antiquity: on Religion and History of Religion” by
       Gerhard van den Heever (2005)

8/2:   Suffering, World Rejection, Ethics and the Axial Age

       Reading: “What is Axial about the Axial Age?” by Robert Bellah (2005)

8/3:   World Religions, Secularization, and Atheism

       Reading: “Gods, Rituals, and the Moral Order” by Rodney Stark (2005)

8/4:   Evolution of Supernatural Beliefs and Genealogy of Religions

       Reading: “Neo-Darwinian Theories of Religion and the Social Ecology of
       Religious Evolution” by Stephen Sanderson and Wesley Roberts (2007)



       Course assessment will be based on a combination of class participation, reading
quizzes, writing assignments, and a final examination. The general requirements and
grade allocation for each is as follows:

                     Class Discussion and Participation (25 points)

        This course promotes an active approach to learning. Although I will not take
formal attendance (but will do so until I learn everyone‟s name), I certainly notice who
attends class and who does not. Failure to attend class and participate will adversely
affect your grade; four absences will usually result in a failing grade. Although I will
lecture most days, I will keep these as short as possible given the nature of the materials
and course. Whenever possible we will engage in seminar type discussions. I expect you
to participate actively in group discussions in ways that demonstrate your critical
reflection on the readings and materials. Each of you will be expected to lead at least one
class discussion. This means you will provide the class with a synopsis of author‟s
arguments/evidence, and will prepare several questions and/or comments that we can use
as prompts for further discussion.

                              Reading Quizzes (25 points)

       For each class, we will read journal articles or book chapters. I have kept these
readings short with the expectation that you will do the reading before each class. This
reading will constitute the basis for class discussions, any lecture, and individual
presentations. It is imperative that you do the assigned reading for each class. Once or
twice per week, we will begin class with a short written assignment or “quiz” which will
ask you to summarize (in a paragraph or two) the thesis of the reading and the arguments,
evidence, and/or data used to support it. The purpose of these unannounced quizzes is
twofold. First, they encourage everyone to do the assigned readings and attend class; and
second, I use them to evaluate reading comprehension and guide class discussions.

                            Writing Assignments (25 points)

      You will not be required to write a formal or research paper for this class. You will
however do a fair amount of writing, the majority of which will be short, concise,
“critical response” submissions ranging from 1 (minimum) to 2 (maximum) single-
spaced pages in length. These written assignments require you to reflect on the lectures,
discussions, and readings, either by developing your own insights or by evaluating the
methods used by the authors. Typically, I will assign these toward the end of the week so
that you can work on them over the weekend; they will be due at Monday’s class. In
addition, each of you will be assigned at least one of the readings for a more formal
written analysis that conforms to Research Blogging’s standards for submissions to its
service. With your permission and my assistance, these will be publicly posted on my
blog (naming you as guest author) and cross-listed at Research Blogging

( Writing assignments are due at the beginning of each
class. Late assignments will not be accepted.

                             Final Examination (25 points)

       The final exam will be comprehensive. It is designed to test your overall
understanding of the course. There will be several focused questions requiring one or two
paragraph answers, and there will be one or two broader questions that will enable you to
demonstrate your mastery of the materials and themes of this course.

                               Extra Credit (1-10 points)

        There is one opportunity for extra credit. This will involve the independent
reading of one of the following books, coupled with a 2-3 page paper that (a) summarizes
the book‟s thesis; (b) discusses the book‟s strengths and weaknesses; and (c) explains
how the book fits within the context of this course. You can hand in the extra credit paper
at any time on or before August 3; I will not accept extra credit papers after August 3,
2011. This is entirely voluntary and should not interfere with your assigned reading and
writing in the course.

Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion, Stewart Guthrie (1993)
Conceiving God: The Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion, David Williams (2010)
The Religions of the American Indians, Ake Hultkrantz (1979)
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Daniel Dennett (2006)
Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought, Pascal Boyer (2001)
In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, Scott Atran (2002)
Wondrous Healing: Shamanism, Human Evolution, and the Origin of Religion, James
McClenon (2002)

                           COURSE EXPECTATIONS

 This class requires a serious reading commitment. Your success in the course requires
  that you participate effectively in the classroom discussions. Effective participation
  requires that you have done the reading before each meeting.

 There will be elements of this course that are demanding. Academically, it will be
  rigorous because we will read across several disciplines, not just within anthropology.
  Personally, it may be challenging because we will be questioning cultural
  assumptions and examining religion from a naturalist perspective. Religion can be a
  sensitive subject and we will be respectful of this. Please keep the following in mind:

    This course is not concerned with the truth or falsity of religious belief and we
     will neither consider nor discuss such issues.
    This is not a theology course and we will consider specific beliefs or doctrines
     only to the extent they bear on the larger themes in the class.

    There are no hidden or unspoken agendas in this course. My personal thoughts on
     these subjects, whatever those may be, are not relevant to the materials.
    By the same token, personal religious beliefs will not be discussed in class. We
     will not tolerate polemical attacks on particular religions or beliefs.

 If you have questions about being able to meet these expectations on classroom
  behavior, please see me and/or seek more information on the university‟s policies: and at

 If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit a
  letter to me from Disability Services in a timely manner so that your needs may
  be addressed. Disability Services determines accommodations based on
  documented disabilities. Contact: 303-492-8671, Willard 322, or

 Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every
  effort to reasonably and fairly deal with all students who, because of
  religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments or
  required attendance. In this class, you should notify the professor at least one week in advance
  of course deadlines. See policy details at

 All students of the University of Colorado at Boulder are responsible for
  knowing and adhering to the academic integrity policy of this institution.
  Violations of this policy may include: cheating, plagiarism, aid of academic
  dishonesty, fabrication, lying, bribery, and threatening behavior. All
  incidents of academic misconduct shall be reported to the Honor Code Council
  (; 303-725-2273). Students who are found to be in violation
  of the academic integrity policy will be subject to both academic sanctions
  from the faculty member and non-academic sanctions (including but not limited
  to university probation, suspension, or expulsion). Additional information on
  the Honor Code can be found at:
  and at

   In coming to the University of Colorado, students and faculty have joined an
   intellectual community dedicated to learning together through the open exchange of
   ideas. For us to feel comfortable sharing our perspectives, we need to be confident that
   our ideas will be respected as our own. All of us share responsibility for creating an
   environment conducive to open exchange by holding to principles of trust, integrity,
   and honesty. This class adheres to a zero tolerance policy for academic dishonesty.
   Any work that, upon investigation, is found to violate the Honor Code will receive a
   grade of zero and a report will be submitted to the Honor Code Council.

                            Writing Assignment Guidelines

For all written assignments, you are expected to use the following guidelines:

1.      All writing for this course should be grammatically correct, clear, concise, and
free from spelling errors.

2.     In sentence citations should conform to the American Anthropological
Association Style Guide (

3.       All writing containing references to other works should contain a final
“References” section that conforms to the AAA Style Guide. This is required even if you
are citing or discussing only a single source.

4.     Use single spacing within each paragraph and double spacing between each
paragraph. According to publishing industry standards, use a single space after all periods
and other punctuation.

5.      Your writing should emphasize quality over quantity. Two tightly argued
paragraphs are better than two pages of meandering thoughts. There is an old saying
among writers which we should all heed: “I apologize for the length of this letter but I
didn‟t have time to make it shorter.” In other words, it requires more effort to write
succinctly than it does to write whatever is on your mind. Think and organize before