Why is religion interesting and problematic?

Why is religion interesting and problematic?

Ryan Schram


Mills 169 (A26)

March 8, 2017

Available at http://anthro.rschram.org/2667/1

Emergency procedures video

The University has asked me to show the following video so that everyone knows the procedures for an emergency on campus or in classes.


Why is this class interesting to you?

Get up, introduce yourselves to each other. Talk about it. Take note of what other people say.

What did you hear?

Read all about it

The Blackboard site for this class is available for those already registered: http://elearning.sydney.edu.au/. We will submit all of the work for this class there.

If you are not signed up for the class, you can get the unit outline and all of the information for this class at this public site: http://anthro.rschram.org/2667.

For next week, your assignment is to read the unit outline, assignment instructions, and the guides to the unit online. For the first tutorial (in Week 2), bring an example of a religious practice you would like to learn more about. In tutorial, we'll talk about how to find ethnographic sources about these forms of religion, and how to formulate a topic of research, your first assignment (due on March 15).

What is religion?

How do you define 'religion'?

Religion and society in North Park, San Diego

Religious diversity in North Park, San Diego, California

Botanica Santa Barbara, University Avenue

A botanica on University Avenue sells “religious articles” and herbal medicines.

Acupuncture clinic, University Avenue

Several blocks down the road is an acupuncture clinic, which also offers traditional Chinese herbal medicine.

Palm reader, El Cajon Boulevard

On El Cajon Boulevard, a palm reader offers healing as well.

Iglesia de Dios, University Avenue

Elsewhere, among the liquor stores, bars and “smoke shops,” a “church of God,” one of many in this neighborhood.

Living Water Church, El Cajon Boulevard

A bit further east on El Cajon, another, similar church, with signs in English and Vietnamese.

The Rock City Heights

In City Heights, an imposing building overlooks the I-15, home to a cafe, gym, and an auditorium of worship.

It's all relative?

Everyone has their own beliefs. This is true. People go to botanicas and palm readers because they believe in either herbal medicine or psychic powers.

Religion is diverse but saying that religion is a broad category is not an explanation of why societies have religions. Anthropology examines religion in relation to the broader social and cultural context.

That is what we are doing in this class.

Japanese Buddhist ancestor worship: Why?

Contemporary altars (gendai butsudan): Why hide?

Bible magazines: Why not just read the Bible?

Alex and Ani bracelets: Think positive

Church of the Subgenius, Pastafarianism, etc.

Overview of the unit

Finding a possible topic

A good research topic focuses on a clear who, what, where and when, like the setting of a story.

One of these books about religion is not like the other. Can you tell which one is not an ethnography?:

Blackboard and Turnitin

Lecture recordings


Revolve: The Complete New Testament. 2003. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson.

Nelson, John. 2008. “Household Altars in Contemporary Japan: Rectifying Buddhist ‘Ancestor Worship’ with Home Décor and Consumer Choice.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 35 (2): 305–30.

Rambelli, Fabio. 2010. “Home Buddhas: Historical Processes and Modes of Representation of the Sacred in the Japanese Buddhist Family Altar (butsudan).” Japanese Religion 35 (1-2): 63–86.

A guide to the unit