Cosmology, Culture And Belief SOCIO4003

  • Academic Session: 2019-20
  • School: School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 4 (SCQF level 10)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 2 (Alternate Years)
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes
  • Available to Erasmus Students: Yes

Short Description

This course examines anthropological studies of religion, particularly those which focus on understandings of cosmology, culture and the nature of knowledge and belief. Broadly speaking, cosmology refers to understandings of the universe as an ordered whole. Cosmologies not only provide an explanation of why the natural environment is the way it is, they also explain the nature of human existence and how people should relate to each other and to the world around them. We will begin this course by looking at various theories that anthropologists have offered to help us understand how humans order and relate to the world around them. We will assess the strengths and limitations of such theories through an exploration of more recent ethnographic studies of religious cosmologies around the globe. The final part of the course will look critically at what constitutes knowledge and how we are to deal with people whose understanding of how the world works is very different from our own. Anthropologists attempt to understand cultural phenomena from 'the native's point of view'. However, it is difficult to avoid being influenced by the views of our own culture (including the views of the academic disciplines we have been trained in). In order to reflect on these complex epistemological dynamics, we will focus on a number of contemporary religious phenomena and issues which are at the center of heated public debates.


20 contact hours over the course of a single semester. This will normally consist of 2 hours per week and may be a combination of lectures and seminars/workshops.

Requirements of Entry

Mandatory Entry Requirements

Entry to Honours Sociology requires a grade point average of 12 (Grade C) over Sociology 2A and Sociology 2B as a first attempt.

Excluded Courses





3,000 word essay (60%) + one hour, one question exam (40%). You will be able to choose your own essay topic, but this needs to be approved by the course lecturer. This forms the Formative Assessment for this course. You will have a one hour exam and will have a range of questions to choose from. Your exam question cannot relate to your chosen essay topic.

Main Assessment In: April/May

Are reassessment opportunities available for all summative assessments? Not applicable


Course Aims

This course aims to:

■ provide you with knowledge of the principles and theory of anthropology, particularly with regards to theories of religion and culture;

■ give you an opportunity to develop practical skills in the gathering, analysis, presentation and discussion of anthropological data, particularly with regards to religious beliefs and differences;

■ allow you to develop the ability to apply your knowledge and practical skills to solving anthropologically based research problems;

■ enable you to engage reflexively with the particularities of your own cultural and social contexts, as well as with the complex possibilities inherent in cross cultural comparison;

■ enable you to enhance your transferable and inter-personal skills, particularly in communication, time management, individual and group research work, critical appraisal of social issues, and the informed use of information technology

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course you will be able to:

■ demonstrate knowledge of some of the fundamental concepts of the anthropology of religion, such as those relating to cosmology, culture and the nature of knowledge and belief;

■ recognise, assess and make use of different theoretical and methodological approaches in the anthropology of religion and to be aware of links to cognate bodies of theory, such as sociology;

■ demonstrate knowledge of the values, ethics and traditions of different cultures;

■ apply a critical appreciation of the ways in which anthropology can contribute to an understanding of broader issues in the study of human nature, society and culture;

■ demonstrate awareness of ethical issues concerned with the study of social worlds and representations of others;

■ Explain the interconnections between various aspects of social and cultural life, belief systems, global forces, individual behaviour and the physical environment;

■ understand how human beings shape, are shaped by, and interact with, their social, cultural and physical environments;

■ formulate, investigate and discuss anthropologically informed questions;

■ think independently, logically, analytically and critically about social and cultural issues in a way that will benefit you as an academic and as a citizen;

■ plan, undertake and present scholarly work that demonstrates an understanding of anthropological aims, research methods and theoretical considerations.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits