October 30, 2015, BY Heather Johns

What class? Pilgrimage, Prayer and Purity: The Anthropology of Religion

Who teaches it? Professor Michelle Johnson, sociology & anthropology

"In this course, we probe the emotional aspects of religion and religious phenomena: How do people feel when a loved one dies? What does it feel like to be possessed by a spirit? How are emotional responses shaped by culture?

"We attempt to bridge the gap between the objective study of religious phenomena and the lived experience of them. For example, when we look at death, funerary rituals and burial practices, we take a trip to the cemetery and spend a class period with a mortician. When we read about pilgrimage and healing, we travel to the Grotto of Lourdes, a Roman Catholic pilgrimage site in Maryland, to experience pilgrimage. In so doing, we seek to reveal the power of religion: its ability to render meaningful, complex and ever-changing social worlds.

"The pilgrimage field trip is powerful. Students also tell me how helpful it is to confront and explore deeply the topic of death — a 'taboo' subject in America — through books, articles, films, discussions, guest speakers and a trip to the cemetery.

"Students get to spend a class period with what some people call a 'spirit medium' from Milton, Pa. For as long as she can remember, she says she's been able to see and communicate with dead people. Students will learn that while rare in our own society, this is quite common in other societies.

"I want students to leave this course with a better understanding of religion and religious phenomena. I want them to go beyond their prior understandings of these as they explore religious practices worldwide, such as circumcision (for men and women), pilgrimage and healing, and death and funerary customs. I want them to understand the intersections between religious belief, religious practice and culture. I want them to understand how the practice of secondary burial in Indonesia (when corpses are buried, dug up, ritually treated, then reburied) might shape local beliefs about life and death.

"The 'exotic' religious practices we explore in the class are not so different from many practices right here at home in the U.S."

See what else Bucknell offers in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology.

Are we missing out on a cool class? Send suggestions to heather.johns@bucknell.edu.

More Cool Classes


Explore the full archive.

Cool Classes: Positive Psychology

Cool Classes: Positive Psychology

Teamed with students at a nearby prison, Bucknell undergraduates question what it means to live a happy life, and who deserves happiness.

Read more

Cool Classes: Physics for Future Leaders

Cool Classes: Physics for Future Leaders

Tomorrow's managers and innovators learn laws and lingo to guide science policy.

Read more

Cool Classes: Art & Sex Through the Lens of Botany

Cool Classes: Art & Sex Through the Lens of Botany

Bucknell students explore the biology and cultural meaning of flowers and create floral art in a new interdisciplinary course.

Read more

Cool Classes: Mass Investing Society

Cool Classes: Mass Investing Society

Bucknell students discover that everything old is new again in the stock market, in a course that compares historical events to the realities of Wall Street today.

Read more

Cool Classes: Geomorphology

Cool Classes: Geomorphology

Bucknell students dig, paddle and climb their way to understanding the changing Earth.

Read more

Cool Classes: Building an Innovative Character

Cool Classes: Building an Innovative Character

An interdisciplinary course bridges the gap between management and the arts and sciences, pushing Bucknell students out of their comfort zones and helping them build character.

Read more
Close

Places I've Been

The following links are virtual breadcrumbs marking the 27 most recent pages you have visited in Bucknell.edu. If you want to remember a specific page forever click the pin in the top right corner and we will be sure not to replace it. Close this message.