Foundations II: The Historical Anthropology of Religion

Course Description: 

Anthropology is the science of humans. Anthropology of religion observes and interprets the phenomenon 'religion' in social and cultural context. Historical anthropology of religion focuses on the beginnings of this approach started in the 19th century. Although the course concentrates mainly on the beginnings, we will signalize links to the present theoretical approaches and research strategies of religion. Although anthropology is an autonomous approach it includes historical, sociological, psychological and theological theories. 

The structure of the course is based on the main authors and main issues of "Religionswissenschft" and try to be near to original textual resources. Every unit will have one part theoretical introduction, another part collective readings of the most relevant passages with discussion and one part creative using of the approach by common analyze of contemporary social and cultural phenomena.

Learning Outcomes: 

Section 1: Taking religion serious

- From the naive to professional view
- Main definitions of religion (substantive and functional)
- Religion in different disciplines (history, sociology and anthropology)

Section 2: Religion-related entities and concepts

- definitions of religion
- myths, narratives, orientations
- myth versus logos discussion

Section 3: The primitive culture

- defining the term "primitive"
...of or relating to a preliterate or tribal people having cultural or physical similarities with their early ancestors (Further reading: Eller 18ff)
...prelogical / logical // inclusive / disjunctive (Lévy-Bruhl)

- culture (and / or civilization)
...survival theory of Tylor
...theory of "animism"
...theory of the universal animation of nature

Section 4: The magic and the worship

Section 5: Tabu and sexuality

Section 6: Rituals and social order

- Discussion on Busójárás festival
-Main theorists of ritual transformation

Section 7: Life cycle of religions

Life cycle of religions

  • The dynamic of the religions and religious organizations
  • Life cycle of religious organizations
  • Syncretism in different approaches
  • Typology of religious organizations - especially of the NRM's


Section 8: The Axial Age and the world religions

The term 'world religions' is very common in the discourse about religion. But in the approach of cultural anthropology world religions are afterward theoretical concepts.

The Axial Age theory was elaborated by the German philosopher, Karl Jaspers, and actualized by Norbert Bellah and Hans Joas. It can show, how works the theorization regarding religion.

Section 9: Religion and violence

Guest lecturer: Sándor Cserháti on René Girard's theory of religion and violence.

Section 10: Secular, Secularisation and Secularism

Two insights will be discussed regarding the transformation or development of religion both based on the Darwinism. The positive progress theory and the negative progress theory. Both the positive and the negative is present in the historical anthropology of religion.

But in the popular recognized theory of secularization, there is only the negative progress theory present. Therefore, it's important to understand secularization in a more distinctive way.

Section 11: Religion and Tribalism

Religion and Tribalism

Section 12: Summary, Feedback and Closing

Summary and Closing



For a successful completion of the course are participation (40%) and presentation (60%) important.