Religion, Ritual and Cultural Transmission

Course Description: 

While explaining religion has been central to social anthropology from its beginnings, it has also become a focal topic of theoretical interest and empirical investigation in recent naturalistic approaches to the origins and social transmission of cumulative cultural knowledge. The course will explore and contrast different conceptual frameworks, methodological commitments and empirical traditions that underlie anthropological approaches to religion and ritual versus naturalistic approaches that attempt to explain religion by means of cognitive and developmental methodologies and cross-cultural experimental research. We shall examine the theoretical tensions and controversies that often characterize these alternative approaches while also providing an overview of newly emerging convergences and the growing scope for fruitful dialogue and methodological integration. As ritual practices and religious beliefs are arguably universal features of human culture, an interdisciplinary study can lend rich insights into the social and psychological mechanisms that shape their evolution and transmission.

Venue: Oktober 6 street 7, 1st floor, room 103.

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of the course students will: a) have advanced knowledge of latest social and cognitive research that reconfigured the contemporary study of religion b) be able to analyze religious phenomena by drawing on the most recent scholarship c) develop an interdisciplinary perspective on ritual and religion, and cultural transmission more broadly.


The course has a seminar format, starting with an introductory lecture that sets the ground for the following sessions. Each session includes two readings and students will have to send in short, relevant questions and comments by Sunday each week (submitted on the e-learning site).

The final grade is based on class participation (10%), weekly questions

(40%) and a final essay or research proposal (50%).

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