Anthropology of Religion

The anthropology of religion studies how religious ideas shape social practice and how religion is used both to interpret and influence the world. Ideas of supernatural powers and beings as well as of animated objects which have a relationship with human societies exist universally in all non-literate societies. This realisation within social anthropology led to the emergence of a specialised field: the anthropology of religion. Henceforth, religion was no longer understood as a phenomenon necessarily linked to sacred writings and, thus, the study of religion no longer remained limited to so-called state-organised societies. Rather, evolutionists such as E.B. Tylor and George Frazer claimed that all early cultures and religion emerged out of “animism”. Thus, early anthropologists of religion considered phenomena such as ancestor worship, taboos, shamanism, totemism, magic and witchcraft to be expressions of “primitive” religion and began analysing them ethnographically.

Today, the anthropology of religion considers issues such as how indigenous and other localised religious ideas shape and strengthen local identities, thereby challenging the claims for global hegemony by religions based on written scripture. These localised religious ideas offer resistance to global religions as much as they reinterpret and appropriate them. Currently, on-going research projects at our Institute explore the revival of tarantism in Southern Italy and the role of the Christian church in Indonesian politics of development since the 1970s. Moreover, numerous other research projects at the Institute address conflicts both within and between different religions.

Themes from the anthropology of religion are integrated into all three master programs.