Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2012-2013 (archived)

Module ANTH43330: Anthropology of Religious Controversy

Department: Anthropology

ANTH43330: Anthropology of Religious Controversy

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2012/13 Module Cap None.


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To improve students’ understanding of key concepts in social anthropology
  • To deepen students’ appreciation of the value of an anthropological approach in understanding public controversies through case studies.
  • To provide students with a challenging opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the anthropology of religion.


  • We plan to capitalise on ‘live issues’, that is, controversies that are being publicly aired during academic year. Subjects discussed will include some of the following: Definitions and their consequences; Theoretical perspectives in the anthropology of religion; Mormons & Marriage; Priests & Paedophilia; Judaising Movements; Israel and the law of return Islamic dress; The Amish and the State; Ideologies and the religious right; Sects & cults; The war against terror; The secularization debate; Religion & ethnicity; The USSR and the erasure of Shamanism; Evolution and creationism; Satanic abuse; Catholicism, contraception & abortion; Local conflicts (Northern Ireland; Sri Lankar; the Middle East; Nigeria; Sudan, Iraq, Kashmir)

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module students will have acquired:
  • understanding of some of the key debates in the anthropology of religion
  • an appreciation of the importance anthropology in understanding public controversy
  • knowledge of key concepts in social anthropology such as power and authority, public culture, gender, ethnicity, identity.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of the module students will have acquired:
  • the ability to retrieve information both on historical and contemporary religious controversies
  • the ability to recognise and apply theoretical approaches in the anthropology of religion
  • the capacity for independent learning within the field of the anthropology of religion
Key Skills:
  • By the end of the module students will have acquired:
  • the ability to argue critically, creatively and coherently
  • the ability to search for, organise and synthesize contemporary and historical and data
  • confidence in presenting their own ideas both orally and in writing
  • skills in effective and efficient time management
  • the ability to write concisely under time pressure

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

  • Students will be taught and learn through self-guided learning and seminars. Students are taught through two-hour seminars. As all students will be new to the discipline of anthropology, the primary subject of each seminar will be introduced by the tutor in order to introduce the students to the key theoretical approaches or data relevant to the theme of the seminar. These introductory lectures will be tailored to accommodate the differential knowledge and disciplinary skills of different cohorts and to make sure that students approach subsequent seminars with an appropriate level of knowledge and understanding.
  • The tutor’s introductory remarks are followed by a seminar during which students are encouraged to explore the lecture content in greater detail and to identify areas in which they require particular guidance, for example on further reading. The seminars enable students to develop their abilities to conduct research, to communicate, to present theoretical alternatives and data, and to develop their own argumentation skills. Class discussion encourages background reading, contributing to the students’ independent learning. It further allows students the opportunity to exchange ideas, to explore issues and arguments that interest or concern them in greater depth, and to receive feedback from both the group and the tutor on their own arguments and understanding. For one formative assessment, students will be required to make a 5-10 minute presentation during one of the regular seminars towards the end of Michaelmas Term on the subject of their summative essay. This exercise will also help prepare students for the Summative Presentation (to be given in Epiphany term). In preparing for this presentation, students engage with the literature of a specific subject, develop an area of knowledge and complete useful preparation for their summative essay. Students prepare further for their essay by submitting a 500-word essay plan midway through Epiphany Term..
  • Summative assessment comprises a 4,000 word essay and a 10 minute (powerpoint ) presentation. Summative assessment by essay formally tests the skills developed throughout the course. The essay, to be submitted in Epiphany Term, tests the ability to plan a substantial piece of work, identifying and retrieving sources and selecting and displaying appropriate subject specific knowledge and understanding. It further tests the ability to develop an extended discussion which utilises concepts and examines competing interpretation and analysis. It also develops key skills in sustaining effective written communication and information presentation to high scholarly standards. It enables students to demonstrate that they have sufficient subject knowledge to meet the assessment criteria, that they have achieved the subject skills and that they have acquired the module’s key skills. In particular, summative essays test the acquisition of knowledge through independent learning and the ability to apply it in critical argument in relation to a specific question. They furthermore help students to develop time management skills by working to a deadline, as well as the ability to seek out and critically use relevant data sources. The summative assessment will test skills of synthesis, analysis and critical evaluation with reference to material drawn from the module. Summative assessment by presentation encourages students to organise a piece of library research in a manner which is both engaging and effective. It gives them the opportunity to read reasonably deeply in a subject covered during seminars and serves to assess a range of skills including public speaking, the ability to argue concisely and logically under time pressure.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 11 fortnightly 2 hours 22
Preparation & Reading 178
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 80%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
essay 4000 words 100% yes
Component: Presentation Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
presentation 10 minutes 100% yes

Formative Assessment:

A short oral presentation during a regular seminar in Michaelmas Term. A 500-word essay plan. Students will be expected to attend all seminars.

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