Home Solutions Cosmology, Culture And Belief
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This course examines anthropological studies of religion, particularly those which focus on understandings of cosmology, culture and the nature of knowledge and belief. Cosmology refers to understandings of the universe as an ordered whole. In many cultures, this understanding is primarily a religious world view. Cosmologies not only provide an explanation of why the natural environment is the way it is, they also explain the nature of human existence and how people should relate to each other and to the world around them. We will begin this course by looking at a cross-cultural range of cosmologies from both small scale societies, such as Australian Aborigines or Amazonian Indians, and world religions, such as Islam. We will then look at various theories that anthropologists have offered to help us understand how humans order and relate to the world around them. This will include considering some classic works (Tylor on animism; Douglas on classification, purity and danger; Geertz on religion as a cultural system; and Levi-Strauss on myth analysis) and critiques of these studies. The final part of the course will look critically at what constitutes knowledge and how we are to deal with people whose understanding of how the world works is very different from our own. Anthropologists attempt to understand cultural phenomenon from `the native`s point of view`. However, it is difficult to avoid being influenced by the views of our own culture (including the views of the academic disciplines we have been trained in). We will explore issues of knowledge, rationality and `science` by focusing on how anthropologists, and other social scientists, have studied fundamentalism, shamanism, witchcraft, and `native` notions of human conception. Please note that this course was designed as a companion to Ritual, Society and Change. Both courses may be taken separately, but anyone wishing to have a wider understanding of the Anthropology of Religion would be advised to take both.