The Anthropology of Religion

Humanities & Social Sciences
Course Code
ANTH 1130
Semester Length
15 weeks
Max Class Size
Method(s) Of Instruction
Course Designation
Certificate in Global Competency
Industry Designation
Typically Offered
To be determined


Course Description
In this course, we will survey the anthropology of religion, involving the study of human beliefs and rituals concerning the supernatural among cultures in the past and present. Students will examine the holistic nature of the anthropological approach towards the diverse belief systems and practices of the world. We will explore the variability of religion through numerous facets, including mythology, sacrifice, ritual, and magic. We also will examine how religious beliefs and ideologies form a central aspect of any human culture, structuring how people relate to other species in their natural environment, to other humans in their society and without in the social environment, and to non-human actors inhabiting this world or other realms of existence. In the process, students will assess how religions help people adapt to their environment, or aid them as they face new events and circumstances, as well as provide a framework of meaning for understanding the nature of the world and their placement within it.
Course Content

Introduction to the Anthropology of Religion

  • The anthropological perspective of religion and spirituality.
  • Anthropological approaches toward the study of religion.

Evolutionary Origins of Religion

  • Biological influence on religion.
  • Earliest archaeological evidence for religious behaviour.
  • Arguments for the adaptive advantages of religion in human evolution.


  • Homo symbolicus:  The importance of symbolic thinking for religion.
  • Metaphor and metonym.
  • Natural symbols (sun, moon, water, etc.) and common associations.
  • Spirit powers, deities, and other religious beings.


  • Creation myths for cosmos and humanity.
  • Hero myths:  The monomyth.
  • Importance of narratives for human cultures.

Rituals for the Living

  • Rituals for the living.
  • Rites of passage.
  • The ritual process.
  • Sacrificial rites: Origins and diversity.

Rituals for the Dead

  • Mortuary rites, funerals, and commemorations.
  • Ancestor "worship".

Religious Specialists: 

  • Shamans: The first religious specialist.
  • Other religious practitioners:  Seers, diviners, healers, mediums, and prophets.
  • Religious occupations: Preachers, priests, and popes.

Altered States of Consciousness

  • The common association of altered states and religion across cultures.
  • The diversity of practices to enter ecstatic states.
  • The biology of ecstasy.

Magic, Witchcraft, and Divination

  • The diversity of metaphysical practices believed to influence reality.
  • Positive magic versus sorcery versus witchcraft.
  • The logics of magic.

New Religious Movements, or Alternative Religions

  • The diversity of alternative religions (Hare Krishna, Wicca, Scientology, Neoshamanism, etc.).
  • The historical contexts of new religious movements.
  • Religions viewed as "cults".
  • Small-scale religions as origins for global religions.

Global Religions

  • Religions that transcend cultures of origin.
  • Abrahamic religions:  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
  • Eastern religions:  Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism.

The Anthropology of Religion and Everyday Life

  • Religion, politics, and warfare.
  • Agnosticism and atheism across cultures.
  • Secular morality and values.
  • Religious aspects of secular life.




Learning Activities

The course will employ a variety of instructional methods to accomplish its objectives, including some of the following:

  • Lectures
  • Films, videos and slide presentations
  • Small and Large Group Discussion
  • Guest Speakers
Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be based on course objectives and will be carried out in accordance with Douglas College Evaluation Policy. An example of a possible evaluation scheme would be:

  • Mid-Term Exam - 25%
  • Final Exam - 25% 
  • Research Essay - 25%
  • Reading Assessments - 15%
  • Attendance & Participation - 5%
  • Total - 100%
Learning Outcomes

At the end of the course the student should be conversant in:

  1. The evolution and history of the development of religious behaviour.
  2. The diversity of belief systems, past and present, and how they are socially constructed.
  3. The holistic connections of religion with other aspects of culture (environment, economy, politics, etc.).
Textbook Materials

Texts will be updated periodically. Typical examples would include the following:

  • Stein, Rebecca L., and Philip L. Stein (2017) The Anthropology of Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft. Fourth Edition. Routledge, New York.
  • Winzeler, Robert L. (2012) Anthropology and Religion: What We Know, Think, & Question. Second edition. Altamira Press, New York.

Supplementary Text Examples:

  • Hicks, David (2010) Ritual and Belief: Readings in the Anthropology of Religion. Altamira Press, New York.
  • Turner, Edith (2012) Communitas: The Anthropology of Collective Joy. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
  • Cassaniti, Julia (2015) Living Buddhism: Mind, Self, and Emotion in a Thai Community. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
  • Davis, Wade (1997) The Serpent and the Rainbow.  Simon & Schuster, New York.



No prerequisite courses.


No corequisite courses.


No equivalent courses.

Course Guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester / year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

Course Transfers

These are for current course guidelines only. For a full list of archived courses please see

Institution Transfer Details for ANTH 1130
Capilano University (CAPU) CAPU ANTH 1XX (3)
Langara College (LANG) LANG ANTH 2250 (3)
Simon Fraser University (SFU) SFU SA 1XX (3)
Thompson Rivers University (TRU) TRU ANTH 1XXX (3)
Trinity Western University (TWU) TWU ANTH 2XX (3)
University Canada West (UCW) UCW ANTH 1XX (3)
University of British Columbia - Okanagan (UBCO) UBCO ANTH 2nd (3)
University of British Columbia - Vancouver (UBCV) UBCV ANTH 2nd (3)
University of Northern BC (UNBC) UNBC ANTH 2XX (3)
University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) UFV ANTH 1XX (3)
University of Victoria (UVIC) UVIC ANTH 2XX (1.5)
Vancouver Island University (VIU) VIU ANTH 1st (3)

Course Offerings

Summer 2023