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The University of Southampton

ANTH2001 Cosmology, Ritual and Belief

Module Overview

This module is concerned with how people in different cultures make sense of their world. The spiritual beliefs and ritual practices of a range of different cultures across the world are considered together with some of the ways in which anthropologists seek to explain them. We ask such questions as can anthropologists really study other cultures' belief systems if they themselves have no personal belief in that system? Is a belief in witchcraft rational? How different are witchcraft and science? Are the causes of illness always natural or can they be social and cultural? We also cover other aspects of cosmology, ritual and belief such as life cycle rituals, spirit possession, witchcraft in contemporary Africa, Paganism in Britain, new religious movements, and the relationship between environment, culture and beliefs.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a critical knowledge of competing theoretical perspectives used in the study of cosmology, ritual and belief.
  • Recognise and formulate social science questions.
  • Be competent in the use of theoretical perspectives and concepts in anthropology and be able to apply them to the area of cosmology, ritual and belief.
  • Appreciate the relationship between external factors and changing religious beliefs.
  • Recognise that rationality is not restricted to Western scientific thought.
  • Understand the relationship between observable data and analytical interpretation.
  • Further develop your communication skills.
  • Enhance your skills of self-reflection with regard to academic work.
  • Develop time management and organisation skills.
  • Enhance your capacity to engage in critical analysis and problem solving.
  • Identify, select and evaluate appropriate data and evidence from relevant sources and present conclusions in an appropriate social science format.


Lecture 1: Introducing Different Ways of Seeing the World Lecture 2: Cosmology, Ritual and Belief: An Introduction to the Module Themes Lecture 3: Methodological Issues in the Study of Cosmology, Ritual and Belief Lecture 4: Definitions and Debates in the Study of Cosmology, Ritual and Belief Seminar 1: Methodological and Definitional issues Lecture 5: Environment, Culture and Beliefs (1) Lecture 6: Environment, Culture and Beliefs (2) Lecture 7: Ritual and Symbolism Lecture 8: Life Cycle Rituals and Gender Seminar 2: Environment, Culture and Beliefs Lecture 9: Classic Debates in Witchcraft and Magic Lecture 10: Evans-Pritchard and Azande Witchcraft Lecture 11: Contemporary Studies of Witchcraft and Magic (1) Lecture 12: Contemporary Studies of Witchcraft and Magic (2) Seminar 3: Classic and Contemporary Studies of Witchcraft and Magic Lecture 13: Cultural Constructions of Health and Illness Lecture 14: Healers, Shamans and Rituals of Healing Lecture 15: Spirit Possession (1) Lecture 16: Spirit Possession (2) Seminar 4: Healing, Shamanism and Spirit Possession Easter vacation Lecture 17: Changing Societies, Changing Beliefs Lecture 18: New Religious Movements Lecture 19: Paganism Lecture 20: The Anthropology of Witchcraft in Contemporary Britain and America

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures; seminars based on directed reading.

Independent Study125
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Bowie, F (2006). The Anthropology of Religion: An Introduction. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2500 words) 60%
Review paper  (1500 words) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Exam 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

Recommended texts for this module may be available in limited supply in the University Library and students may wish to purchase reading texts as appropriate.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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