Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2008-2009 (archived)


Department: Theology and Religion


Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2008/09 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • to give knowledge and understanding of the nature of Shamans, Shamanism and spirit possession from an anthropological and cross-cultural perspective.
  • to explore how the concept of shamanism has developed historically and how some classic approaches to shamanism have a continued influence.
  • to provide an opportunity for critical reflection on the western encounter with other cultures


  • This module explores how we can understand 'shamanism' and how it has evolved from Western encounters with other cultures to become a significant part of popular culture in contemporary Western society. It looks at what 'shamanism' is and why those interested in religion should study 'shamanism' as a way of both looking at 'other' religions and religion per se since traditional shamanism and neo-shamanism challenge our Western expectations concerning 'religion'. From an anthropological and cross-cultural perspective, focusing on the complex of ideas which surround shamans in various cultural settings, the module is concerned to show how to appreciate indigenous knowledge and in particular animism, altered states of consciousness and concepts of self and illness, fundamental to all shamans. It looks at how the encounter between West and East raises important questions about religious and cultural interpretation and the invention of religions in 'other' and contemporary society.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A knowledge and critical understanding of the well-established principles of study and main methods of enquiry in the study of both traditional and contemporary shamanism, along with an understanding of the way in which those principles have developed, and an ability to evaluate critically the appropriateness of different approaches.
  • a critical appreciation of some key issues in the study of religion in cross-cultural perspective.
  • a knowledge of the contexts in which Westerners encountered shamanism and how it was conceived and represented historically.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • ability to recognise and contextualise Western approaches and representations of shamanism and other 'animistic' religions.
  • competence in cross-cultural comparisons
Key Skills:
  • Skills in the acquisition of information through reading, research and discussion, and in the structured presentation of information in written form.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Lectures convey information and exemplify an approach to the subject-matter, enabling students to develop a clear understanding of the subject and to improve their skills in listening and in evaluating information.
  • Seminars enhance subject-specific knowledge and understanding both through preparation and through interaction with staff and students, promoting awareness of different viewpoints and approaches and enabling students to develop oral communication skills.
  • Tutorials provide feedback on students' work and the opportunity to discuss specific issues or problems in detail, enhancing student knoweldge, confidence and writing skills.
  • Summative essays assess subject-specific knowledge and understanding, and the skills involved in acquiring information through reading and research and in developing coherent arguments and independent thought.
  • Examinations assess subject-specific knowledge and understanding, and the ability to structure information in written form under time contraints.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 15 Weeks 1,2,4,5,7,8,MT; 10,11,13,14,16,17,EpT; 19,20,21 ET 1 hour 15
Tutorials 3 As required 1 hour 3
Seminars 10 Weeks 3,6,9 MT; 12,15,18 EpT; 21 ET 1 hour 10
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 words 100% Essay
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Written Examination 3 hours 100% Written Examination

Formative Assessment:

One seminar presentation, one essay of 2,500 words.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University