Guinea Pig Test Students!

So I found out yesterday that my class for the spring should be a go! I’m about to order some ethnographies to read through that I might want to use, as well as text-books to evaluate. Since I know some of you who read this are in college right now, and others went; I have decided to get some advice from you all. You can be guinea pig students 🙂 Official professional disclaimer: this post about my class is for feedback and planning purposes only. I have no intention to blog about the class, student’s, etc . . . I’m no fool 🙂

The class is “The Anthropology of Religion and Magic.” So what I want to know, if you were to take this class (heck some of you might have), what would you expect to learn about in it? Now for some who might not be familiar with anthropology, it’s the study of human culture, past and present. It’s heavily focused on the “other,” usually with cultural anthropology this means non-western cultures. However in later years this had been relaxed and many anthropologists study sub-cultures here at home. With this said, the major religions like Christianity, Islam, Hindu, etc are not going to be the focus of this class. It’s going to be the other, aka “the exotic.”

Now the focus of the class, from the description, is just what I stated above; a focus on magic and religion in “primitive” non-western cultures. I’m sure it’s an older description on the books for awhile tough. I’ve been told I can choose to teach what I want, there aren’t restrictions. My plan is to keep a heavy focus on this with a text book that covers the basics (shamanism, trance states, totems) and uses ethnographic examples to illustrate them. I’m adding a healthy dose of archaeology to all the examples though, to give them a foundation of how ancient a lot of these practices are. Finally to bring it home, I plan to challenge them to realize these ideas aren’t “primitive” and even in our civilized western culture you can find examples (good luck charms, horoscopes, etc).

So far I have the following planned to do for sure . . . .

– VooDoo –
Probable ethnography: Mama Lola (A VooDoo Priestess in Brooklyn)
Alternate: Traditional ethnography on Haiti
To Lecture On: New Orleans, Marie Laveau, history of VooDoo
Film (may be optional extra credit): Serpent and the Rainbow (with possible report on comparing and contrasting the film version of VooDoo with what they’ve learned in class)

Probable ethnography: Neo-Paganism in America (study of a group of witches in San Francisco)
Class Lecture/Video Segments: Accusations of Witchcraft in America (contrasting the Salem Witch Trials with the Anasazi (Native Americans))
Film (again possible extra credit): The Craft (with possible report on comparing and contrasting the film version of Wicca with what they’ve learned in class)

A lecture on superstitions, their origins, origins of popular ones. To facilitate a class discussion to get students involved talking about their own beliefs in superstitions, to show them how many in fact originate with fears of death and evil spirits.
Film/Film Segments: ??? I know there are films out there about bad luck and stuff, I’m sure Jim Carey made one.

-A Healthy Dose of Death-
Haven’t given this one too much thought yet. Definitely a focus on different burial rites, the belief and fear of spirits and ghosts, exorcism.
Film/Film Segments: Oh “The Exorcist” for sure, “Poltergeist.”

Okay now with all that intro, what would you as a possible student expect to get out of this class or hope to learn subject wise that I haven’t listed? Or given the few things I’ve listed; suggestions ?


9 Responses to “Guinea Pig Test Students!”

Becky Says:

What about something that incorporates the “old” Celtic religion, such as Druidism? Or Stonehedge (I think I spelled that wrong). I think the topics you are planning on discussing are the ones that I would expect to learn about.


Dustin Says:

Oh I loves me some Stonehenge 🙂 I have a shirt with Stonehenge on it that says “give me that old time religion” If I can work it into the class, I will along with Easter island (hello totems!)


karen Says:

only one thing popped into my head that you didn’t mention and that is satanic religion. the course you are teaching sounds extremely interesting and i know i would love to take it. what level course is it gonna be…100, 200, etc.


jeremy Says:

Religion, that’s my area. I took a class this past summer called Wisdom Tradition and Enlightenment. Covering Native traditions, Shamanism, Voodou, Hinduism, Buddhism and a little Evangelical Virginity promise girls, some leather and gay issues. I like Anthropology, I took a great class on the Aztec, Peruvian and Incan empires. That was a great class.

I would choose your topics selectively. Something that will peak interest and PUSH YOU to give good lectures. A class focused on a book is BORING!!! If you can’t teach, then you use the book – but if you can teach, center learning on lecture and presentation of said topics.

As I have a BA in religious studies, there are far more “Other” religious traditions to choose from. You might include traditions from your own area of study. If I spend too much time reading a book, then I loose interest in the class. There is only so much reading you can assign in a given semester. Depending on the course level 100,200,300…

Egypt, Stonehenge, Iona, Israel, these are the old standards. I would stay away from contemporary traditions that are prominent because they get enough air time on Discovery and the like. Give the students something to chew up and digest. Step outside the box – the more you are into the subject the more engaged your students will be.

Just some thoughts.



WV Nan Says:

Just a thought about movie for death—Ghosts with Whoopie Goldberg or Sixth Sense—totally different but both movies made me take a look at my views and fears.

I’m not sure what avenues you intend on pursuing with death and dying, but because of my personal experience with having my dad die at home after a long battle with Alzheimer, can I suggest a look at the way Hospice views the dying process as opposed to the “fix it at all costs” medical field. If you’re interested let me know—I can give you some great sources. Final Gifts is an awesome book for anyone dealing with or having dealt with death.

I’ll be “pondering ” others areas. I wish I could be part of you class–sounds very interesting and could lead to much self-revelation. Congrats and good luck!


Dustin Says:

Thanks Jeremy. I actually love VooDoo, Wicca and anything Pagan, so yes I can talk on those issues for hours on end lol. Plus I can incorporate so much archaeology into them. Yes they might appear on discovery, but you only see one side 🙂 Like any Egyptology especially, Zahed Wahass dominates it on those channels lol.

Unfortunately we as teachers have to assign books. This is a 300 level class, so they will be expected to read. However I was planning to give them more of the cultural stuff to read, while lecture on the archaeology as well as contemporary, which are my strengths.

Karen, the funny thing is, there is no satanic religion. Their are what one might say satanic cults, but a cult is a different thing from a religion. Something I plan on addressing. I know “Scientology” will come up in a question in this class. Oh brother lol. By definition that is a cult lol.

WVNan, my grandma went through hospice. I do intend to include a medical field in the class. My approach was going to be western verses eastern medicine. In western we treat the symptoms only usually, in eastern they treat the symptoms as well as the mind/spirit. The two are not considered separate. Very interesting.

One of the books or at least select chapters from a book that I’m considering using is from is from a Voodoo book. It’s called … Oh crap! I’m spacing! Something like “Aids and Accusation.” A very fascinating look at HIV in Haiti in which people deal with the idea that HIV is a medical born illness verse a curse put on them, therefore they should go to a VooDoo practitioner for treatment over a medical doctor.


Dustin Says:

Also a side note, there is no satanic religion without christianity. They are co-dependant. This is the major issue for many pagan religions. They get pegged as Satan worshippers, where in fact Satan is a christian being. If you aren’t christian, you don’t believe in Satan per say.

I need to find a way to work “The Golden Child” into this class 🙂


Lisa Says:

Bad luck movie – “Pure Luck” with Martin Short.


sandra Says:

If I read the title of our class, I would automatically think shamanism and native american religions. That being said, I loved Mama Lola! I also really liked The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down if you’re looking for a book on Eastern vs. Western medicine (but your class doesn’t sound like it needs it). Personally, I always found burials fascinating. How the body was positions and/or what happened to the body after death and the whys. I also liked learning about animism, fertility and the woman’s role (if any), and how food factors into the religion/rituals.