The Anthropology of Religion, introductory course

Course content

Anthropologists have always been interested in ‘Religion’. Studying Religion offered (and continues to offer) fundamental insights into how people understand their lives, the world they inhabit, and the larger cosmos (both temporally and spatially). Moreover, studying religion offers fascinating insights into how people seek to promote, maintain and contest these commitments in institutions, rituals, or more fluid forms of practice. 

But as old as anthropology’s interest in religion is the question: what kind of phenomenon is religion? Is its world-making importance restricted to ‘traditional’ societies? Is it confined to a particular domain in modern societies? Does it make sense at all to speak of ‘religion’ as a clearly defined phenomenon? Or are ‘religions’ merely one aspect of a more encompassing phenomenon in society: the tendency of humans to attribute sacredness to certain things, persons, and narratives? 

This lecture course takes the latter (broadly Durkheimian) approach. It explores in 14 lectures the ways in which people evoke, contest, and engage the sacred, and how anthropologists and other social scientists have sought to understand these engagements with the sacred.

We begin with an introduction to the anthropology of religion and from there move on to what is often seen as its opposite: the secular. The  remaining lectures will then take perspectives that often transcend the religion/secular binary, by taking their cues from ritual, magic, syncretism, conversion, and belief respectively.

Learning outcome

The final portfolio is expected to demonstrate, by way of a clearly structured, well written, and lucidly argued set of texts, that the student is capable of:

  • demonstrating knowledge of and insight into key topics and questions as discussed by the anthropological literature concerning questions of religious and secular, sacred and profane aspects of societies

  • demonstrating factual knowledge of a selected ethnographic field within the overall theme of the course

  • identifying and defining the implications that the assigned texts, additional readings, and the weekly lectures have for an anthropological theme chosen at the beginning of the course

  • demonstrating the ability to engage productively with the weekly lectures (and assigned texts) within the seminars and generate a coherent set of postings that cast light on the chosen theme from different angles.

lectures and seminars

the student is expected to demonstrate in the seminar that he or she contributes orally to discussions on the theme of the lecture course. The student is expected to demonstrate his or her ability to read and understand the course literature by regularly uploading the required ‘postings’ to his or her portfolio on the Absalon course website.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Portfolio exam:
Length: The portfolio exam can be taken individually or in groups of maximum four students. The portfolio exam consists of 3-7 submissions. The number of submissions is set by the lecturer. The total length of all of the submissions must not exceed 30,000 keystrokes for a single student. For groups of two students the maximum is 40,000 keystrokes. For groups of three students the maximum is 45,000 keystrokes and for groups of four students the maximum is 50,000 keystrokes.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

See learning outcome

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 14
  • Seminar
  • 28
  • Project work
  • 48
  • Preparation
  • 120
  • English
  • 210