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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Ethnography of the Supernatural: Writing the More-Than-Human (PGSP11613)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course explores ethnographic writing that engages supernatural others like ghosts, spirits, or God and attempts to include them in anthropological analysis. This kind of ethnography pushes the bounds of anthropological theory beyond the secular, expanding the epistemological horizons of the discipline to include other ways of knowing and being.
Course description Anthropologists have long searched for a position from which they might find sense in the worldviews of others without rendering their own views of the world nonsensical."-Harry West

Ethnographic writing rarely takes on the supernatural as such. While anthropologists often engage with people as they relate to more-than-human actors ghosts, spirits, gods, and so forth these beings rarely feature as players in their final analysis. There are two exceptions to this rule, however. First are scholarly attempts to include the supernatural as an element of social scientific analysis, as seen in recent efforts to develop an ethnography of God. Second are published accounts of supernatural experiences that anthropologists have during fieldwork that, in their telling, challenge their established secular ways of approaching the world.

In this course we will examine anthropological engagement with the more-than-human by drawing on examples from both of these ethnographic genres. Building on theoretical tools gleaned from phenomenology, posthumanism, the ontological turn, and interdisciplinary dialogues between anthropology and theology, this course pushes anthropological thought outside what philosopher Charles Taylor called the immanent frame to explore the supernatural as an ethnographic object. What does an anthropology of the supernatural look like? What do anthropologists personal accounts of supernatural experiences in the field teach us about the disciplines underlying assumptions? What potential and problems result from such ethnographic emphases? Is post-secularism decolonizing, for instance, or perhaps inescapably religious? Can anthropology move beyond the secular without undermining its core epistemological groundings?

Outline Content:

Theoretical Underpinnings, Haunting, Bewitching, Converting, Exorcising, Reanimating, Worlding

Student Learning Experience:

This course will combine traditional lecture and seminar formats with fortnightly tutorials and a series of parallel learning events located at various locations around the city. Examples of types of events include visiting a spiritualist service, taking a ghost tour, or attending a Pentecostal deliverance session.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate a critical understanding of the benefits and limitations of secular theoretical approaches in anthropology.
  2. Demonstrate a sophisticated ability to use non-secular approaches, such as posthumanism or theologically engaged anthropology, in anthropological analysis.
  3. Develop original anthropological arguments that bring together published ethnographic material, original ethnographic research, and critical theoretical approaches.
  4. Communicate complex anthropological ideas effectively through clear writing, using specific ethnographic analysis and applying appropriate theoretical frameworks.
Reading List
Furani, Khaled and Joel Robbins. 2021. Introduction: Anthropology within and without the secular condition. Religion 51(3): 501-517.

Mittermaier, Amira. 2021. Beyond the Human Horizon. Religion and Society 12(1): 21-38.

West, Harry. 2007. Ethnographic Sorcery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills This course will help students broaden their range of experiences to help them engage effectively with the world around them.

This course encourages research skills.

This course requires students to demonstrate advanced communication skills through written assessments.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Naomi Haynes
Tel: (0131 6)50 4052
Course secretary
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