Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module THEO56730: Ritual, Symbolism and Belief in the Anthropology of Religion

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO56730: Ritual, Symbolism and Belief in the Anthropology of Religion

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2019/20 Module Cap


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce students to selected theories and theorists in social-cultural anthropology that relate to key aspects of the interplay of religious thought and practice.
  • To enable students to develop a critically informed approach to religious organization and belief.
  • To develop a competence in interdisciplinary conversation between the above aspects of anthropology and theology.
  • To develop skilled engagement with religious communities, objects or texts.


  • • The first half of this module involves an exploration of the long and ongoing conversations that have been central to the anthropological exploration of religion. Part of this takes the form of an exploratory conversation between theology and social anthropology on certain key issues of religious belief and practice. Theological ideas concerning human nature, creativity and worship, for example, are related to anthropological theories concerning self, society, symbol and ritual Students are also introduced to a wide range of practices and ontologies of being, drawn from both global and indigenous religious traditions. Through these examples of anthropological practice students are introduced to the key tools necessary to carry out anthropological work with religious people, places and things.
  • The second half of the module both further develops the above themes and allows for students to engage anthropologically with a religious group, body of literature, sacred object, or sacred place. By entering into the practice of anthropology students will both develop the necessary skills for doing anthropological research with religious communities and be better able to engage with debates that emerge from the practice of the anthropology of religion. The course concludes with a consideration of the distinction between doing the anthropology of religion and anthropology with religion,

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Critical appreciation of the nature of anthropological approaches to belief and practice
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Demonstrate an overview of anthropological theories as they relate to aspects of religion and to issues of reflexivity raised within the study of religious groups.
  • Demonstrate the ability to engage in the anthropology of religion.
Key Skills:
  • Developing a sense both of critical distance and of issues aligned with participant knowledge of a group.
  • The nature of cumulative competence in working with groups.
  • The ability to carry out anthropological research with religious groups, objects and texts.

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

  • Tutorials (on a one-to-one basis) will offer an opportunity for feedback on assigned work.
  • The weekly seminars will enable students to develop advanced subject-specific knowledge and skills in the communication of ideas and critical interpretation of sources. This will be facilitated through peer-group discussion of selected key texts, moderated by the module leader.
  • Formative essays develop subject-specific knowledge and understanding, and the skills of written presentation. These skills and the knowledge and understanding they serve are assessed in the summative essay.
  • Presentations assess subject-specific knowledge and understanding, along with student skills in the structured presentation of information in oral form under time constraints.
  • Summative essays assess subject-specific knowledge and understanding, along with student skills in the acquisition of information through reading and research, and in the structured presentation of information in written form.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 4 as required 1 hour 4
Seminars 20 weekly 2 hours 40
Preparation and Reading 256
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 80%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%
Component: Presentation Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Presentation 30 minutes 100%

Formative Assessment:

One 2500 word essay

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