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Nature, Science & Religion

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Course Descriptions

1120 6.0 Making Sense of a Changing World: Anthropology Today

Course Directors: Profs. Chris Stephens, Tania Ahmad

Time: Monday 12:30-2:30 VC 135 OR Wednesday 12:30-2:30 VC 135


Course Directors: Profs. Daphne Winland / Natasha Myers    Thursday 2:30-4:30 TEL 0001

In this course you will use anthropological approaches to increase your understanding of global issues in diverse locales. This course challenges you to engage with other ways of knowing and being, and to rethink your taken-for-granted knowledge and beliefs through the comparative analysis of the human condition. This course will take a problem-based approach to a range of topics such as: the effects of race and racism, sources of religious conflict, alternate genders and sexualities, First Nations and health, international development and issues of social inequality. Students are encouraged to bring their own knowledge and experience as the first step in "thinking like an anthropologist" (i.e. rethinking the taken-for-granted). The emphasis in this course is developing skills (analytical thinking, writing).

This course will be team taught by two professors, each sharing and exploring their own research.

An intensive 6 credit, one term section of this course will also be offered in the winter term.

1130 6.0 Images of Resistance / Irresistible Images: Anthropology Through the Visual

Time: Not offered 2014-15

This course uses film, video, visual art, photography and social media such as webcams to explore foundational concepts in anthropology. We examine race, ethnicity, nationality, globalization, power, authority, politics, religion, gender, class, and sexuality through images produced by anthropologists as well as commercial and documentary filmmakers, photographers and artists. The course also examines visual representations of non-western cultures within and outside of western contexts, and asks questions about how visual technologies that can look deep into our bodies as well as far out into space are changing our understandings of what it means to be human in the 21st century.

Zulfikar Hirji

2200 6.0 Culture Wars: The Anthropology of Science & the Sacred

Course director: Prof. Arun Chaudhuri

Time: Wed 11:30-2:30 ACE003

One of the central endeavours of anthropology is to explore and understand how different social groups in different cultural and historical contexts come to know and understand the world around them. Through classic and contemporary ethnographic examples, the course examines what is understood by some of central categories like nature, religion, magic and science.  How do these ways of knowing inform everyday practices and systems of social organization, exchange, gift-giving, well-being, and life?

The course will explore ideas such as: What is understood by nature? How is it differentiated from culture? What are the implications of such a division? And how can anthropology contribute in rethinking the nature-culture divide? For example, the course may look at how the world is seen through a scientific lens and how certain ways of knowing become established as dominant truths. The course will offer a solid foundation in the anthropology of knowledge and prepare students for upper level courses.


3130 3.0 Archaeology and Society: Local Pasts in Global Present

Course director:

Time: Not Offered 2015-16

How does archaeology affect society? How does society affect archaeology? Archaeology and society are intertwined, locally and globally. This course interrogates those connections, examining the twin themes of (a) the role of archaeological heritage and archaeological investigation within society, and (b) the influence of social and political forces on archaeological interpretation, governance, and practice. In exploring these themes, we consider the perspectives of ethnic communities, feminist groups, courts of law, indigenous peoples, museums, developers, antiquities markets, governments, the general public, popular media, and the archaeological community.

We also consider how the archaeological past is used as a commodity, to create community, to create legitimacy, or to exert power over others. Throughout, we consider the effects of globalization on archaeological heritage. An artifact or archaeological monument only exists physically in one place at a time, but its influence can reach around the world, and endure for many centuries; our modern world demands that we understand how globalization now shapes and distributes that influence.

Recommended Prerequisites: AS/ANTH 2140 6.0 ; AS/ANTH 2150 6.0

Format: Three seminar hours


3270 3.0 The Anthropology of Outer Space

Course director:

Time: Not offered 2015-16


The Anthropology of Outer Space offers an anthropological voyage of exploration to other worlds, through human culture, popular imagination, science, and technology. Outer space is full of human paradoxes. Human beings have so far physically travelled only as far as our Moon, and the most distant human artifact, the interstellar probe Voyager 1, has barely left our solar system; yet, the reach of our imagination and technologically-mediated viewing extends to the edge of the known universe.

We have been a space-faring species for only 40 years; yet our past and future are full of dreams of colonizing our solar system. No life of any kind has so far been discovered off Earth, despite the efforts of the sciences of astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence; yet, our popular culture is full of imaginary extraterrestrial Others. When Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, it was touted as "one giant leap for mankind", and the ground beneath his feet has been suggested by the UN to be the "common heritage of mankind"; yet, the flag he planted was American. A substantial fraction of North Americans don't know that the earth orbits the sun, rather than vice versa; and yet, the website for NASA's Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, had 6.5 billion hits in the six weeks after their landing.

This course will explore these contradictions and more, through an anthropological gaze. Throughout, the course will deal with modern science but will be grounded in the human experience of space, as mediated through technology, culture, and politics. Particular topics covered will include: discourses of exploration; the cross-cultural history of scientific speculation about other life in the cosmos and the implications of detection; the use of Moon/Mars analog sites on Earth; simulations of space voyages; near-term plans for crewed explorations of Mars; long-term plans for the colonization of the solar system; Mars rovers, the experiences of telepresence, and websites like GoogleMars; the material culture and sites of space exploration; the private spaceflight revolution; space tourism; space and nationalism; and the connections between space exploration, transnational corporations, and the machinery of war.

Format: Three seminar hours


3320 6.0 Religious Ritual and Symbolism

Course Director: Prof. Arun Chaudhuri

Time: Thurs 11:30-2:30 ACW 304

How major anthropological thinkers seek to explain the variety and complexity of human ritual and symbolic behaviours informs this course. Ethnographic examples and materials on ritual events, religious symbolism, and belief systems will enrich this anthropological perspective. A series of topics will be investigated including shamans, sorcery and witchcraft, specific examples of Asian and European religions and New Age religious movements. After a review of various ways to approach the study of religion within Anthropology with a focus on symbolic theory, the course will concentrate on a number of topics.

Some of the areas of interest investigated and developed for extensive discussion include myth, ritual, shamans, sorcery and witchcraft, and religious systems of the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia. Students will be encouraged to discuss topics including issues surrounding purity and pollution, gender and religion, religious festivals and performances, and major life concerns like the problem of evil and suffering. Students will be exposed to the anthropological approach to the study of religion through discussions of theories in anthropology and a variety of ethnographic examples. This course will provide the students with grounding in the anthropological approach to the study of religion and expand their knowledge of anthropological techniques and perspectives.


3520 3.0 The Social Lives of Places & Things: Material Culture and the Archaeology of the Contemporary Past

Not offered 2015-16

We are surrounded by a material world, which we make, and which makes us. One of the unique characteristics of human beings is the incredible variety of things which we create, use, distribute, cherish, discard, or remake. But what do things mean? How do we interact with them? What do they contribute to the human experience?

This course addresses the "stuff of life" - including the material things and the constructed places around us. As the physical manifestations of culture, things and places both reflect and influence social relationships. Full of meaning, they can be "read" with the techniques of archaeology and material culture studies, and understood with anthropological and interdisciplinary theory. Thus, we will examine the social lives of things and places, and consider what they say about human relationships with others and with their environment.

Case studies will range from shopping malls to graveyards, zoos, 20th century homes and industrial sites, and battlefields. We will examine material culture in traditional societies, material culture under socialism, and second-hand clothing and recycling/reuse of consumer goods. We will also consider unusual cases such as human artifacts in our solar system (e.g. Moon landing site).


3560 6.0 Anthropology of the Senses

Course Director: Prof. Natasha Myers      Time: (Fall) Tues. 11:30-2:30   VH3006

This course examines how humans make and understand the world through their senses, the history of the senses in Western and non-Western systems of thought and experience, and the contemporary meanings and uses of the senses in a range of socio-cultural contexts. Students explore the multidimensional nature of the senses through lectures, field-trips, experimentation and by working with practitioners in different disciplines.

Note: 3 hour seminar.

3570 6.0 Anthropology, Islam & Muslim Societies

Course director: Prof. Tania Ahmad

Time: Tues. 11:30-2:30 ACW305

This course examines debates amongst anthropologists about the study of Islam and Muslim societies, and Muslim expressions of Islam according to anthropological themes including the body, space, ritual, knowledge, agency and representation. Students design and undertake a field-based research project.

Format: Three seminar hours


4120 3.0 Reconceiving Kinship: Anthropological Perspectives on Relatedness

Not offered 2015-16

This course explores contemporary debates in anthropology on the nature of kinship and relatedness. Beginning with a cultural critique of traditional perspectives, we consider how feminist theory, ender studies, and new reproductive technologies have reshaped the anthropological study of kinship.


4130 6.0 The Professional Anthropologist: The Anthropologist as Practitioner

Course Director: Dr. Victor Barac

Time: Thurs. 2:30-5:30 VH 3005

Applied Anthropology uses the theory and methods of anthropology in the analysis and solution of practical, legal and policy problems for non-academic clients such as governments, development agencies, NGOs, tribal and ethnic associations, advocacy groups, social-service and educational agencies, and businesses. This course discusses the different set of ethical considerations, research constraints and report formats confronting Applied anthropologists as professionals. Prerequisites: AP/ANTH 3110 6.00. Note: This course is open to Anthropology majors/minors only.

4200 3.0 Practicing Ethnography: Advanced Approaches to Ethnographic Methods

Course Director: Not offered 2015-16

This advanced course provides upper level students with the opportunity to critically examine and apply qualitative research methods used to produce ethnographies (written descriptions and analyses of a particular group of people or institution). Ethnographic methods, the core methods in social anthropology, raise questions about representation and authority. Courses in anthropology often use one or more ethnographies to illustrate particular subjects like tourism, ethnicity, or medical anthropology.

This course requires students to deconstruct and reconstruct the ethnographic process through a critical reading of contemporary ethnographies, combined with direct engagement with the experience of doing ethnography. The course includes reading a selection of ethnographies to see how and why the methods work, and selecting specific methods ethnographers use to produce their ethnographies. With appropriate ethics instruction and ethics clearance, students apply these methods, and write up the results. This year, we examine York University ethnographically as our fieldsite.

The course is organized around student experience in the practice of doing ethnographic analysis. Students have the opportunity to work individually and cooperatively in teams, and to critique their own techniques and those of their peers in a supportive environment. The course provides upper level students with the opportunity to apply research skills acquired in anthropology 3110 or related methods courses to the work of producing pieces of ethnographic analysis.


4240 3.0 Nature, Politics and Difference

Not Offered 2015-16

This course provides an anthropological perspective on the cultural politics of environment and development. Drawing on ethnographic case studies from diverse geographical contexts, the course examines the cultural practices, ideologies and discourses that inform environmental struggles and affect the livelihoods of marginal peoples across the globe.

Format: Three seminar hours


4250 6.0 Religious Movements in Global Perspective

Course Director: Dr Arne Steinforth

Time: Mon. 11:30-2:30 VH 3005


Within a framework of the politics of identity, this course explore the tension between religious and national identities, the character and scope of transnational religious communities, and takes up fundamentalism as one response to developments in cosmopolitan modern societies.

Course credit exclusion: ANTH 4200J 6.0

4560 6.0 The Anthropology of Science & Technology

Course Director: Dr. Sandra Widmer

Time: Wed. 2:30-5:30 VH 3005

What is a scientific fact? How are facts produced in scientific laboratories? How do they circulate? And how do we make sense of scientific facts in our daily lives? This course offers an introduction to anthropological studies of science and technology with a focus on the power of facts in contemporary technoscientific cultures. The anthropology of science is a fast-growing area of ethnographic research that approaches science as both a practice and a culture. Today, anthropologists' field sites include nuclear weapons laboratories, science classrooms, surgical operating theatres, pharmaceutical companies, animal breeding farms, ecological restoration sites, activist communities, and disaster zones like Chernobyl and Bhopal.

In these fields, anthropologists track the material cultures of science, including the objects and instruments scientists design and use to conduct their research. Building on anthropological interest in forms of cultural production and reproduction, anthropologists of science forge inquiries into the ways that scientific institutions produce new generations of scientists, new cultures of knowledge, and new forms of expertise.

Anthropologists also examine how Western cultural concepts of life and health are continuously transformed through biomedicine and biotechnologies, and how people rework scientific facts in their daily lives and worlds. The course builds on anthropological literature to explore how facts are stabilized in scientific communities, how facts are made to travel, and how we incorporate facts into our lives and fashion our selves in conversation with expert knowledge. Through close examination of ethnographic studies, active discussion, and hands-on research, the course takes a close look at the politics of science and technology and the intersection of science with race and gender, and new formations of capital and identity.

Format: Three seminar hours