Religion, Magic and Witchcraft: Washburn Course

Washburn is offering an anthropology course involving religion, magic and witchcraft in the spring 2019. Professor Mary Sundal will be teaching the AN313 course. 

According to Washburn’s website, the course is described as a cross-cultural study of the forms and functions of non-western and western supernatural beliefs. The class will examine a wide range of religious systems and world views including myth, ritual, symbolism, magic ancestor worship, witchcraft, religious healing and spirit possession.

Sundal explained that the course focuses on medicinal qualities in relation to religion; therefore, herbal remedies and local healing remedies are a large part of the course because they relate directly to witchcraft and magic.

Witchcraft is not a demonic practice and is actually very misunderstood.

According to Oxford Dictionary, witchcraft is a religious practice involving magic and affinity with nature, usually within a pagan tradition.

Anthropology is the study of human societies and cultures. Several anthropology courses are offered at Washburn, including cultural anthropology, introduction to archaeology and biological anthropology.

According to Sundal, this course is interesting to many students.

“The slots fill up really fast because it has the words ‘witchcraft’ and ‘magic’, and that really draws students in. It’s already full for spring semester,” Sundal said.

Many other institutions offer course, including McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario in Canada.

According to McMaster’s website, the course description is to explore two central questions, how have humans conceived of and interacted with the supernatural, and how can we better understand these beliefs and practices using critical lenses from a range of academic disciplines.

The entire purpose of these anthropology religion courses is to learn about other cultures’ views on faith. 

People are complex, as is religion, so the course is expected to be eye-opening and interesting in regards to people different than themselves.

Although the AN313 course is full for the spring semester, there are several other classes that are just as interesting. Anthropology courses are available for any major and they could be beneficial within one’s major.

“I have a whole range of students. Even though it’s an upper level anthropology class, we get religious studies majors and all other majors across the board,” Sundal said.

Special topics courses offered for the following spring include environmental archaeology, taught by Professor Laura Murphy, and ethnographic film, taught by Professor Jason Miller.

Ethnographic film is still open to students, and it is recommended to mass media majors with an emphasis in film and video.

Relating back to the topic of religion, magic and witchcraft, Sundal explains that this course is not an easy A. Many assignments require a lot of writing as well as critical thinking, which is expected from an upper level course.

Most students walk out of the course with a better understanding of religion from an anthropological perspective.

Importance is held in learning about other cultures and diversity. Opportunities to learn about different cultural practices are important in order to understand others and become a more worldly citizen.

Mainstream U.S. culture is not the only way to think about society or the world. In a world of globalization, it is important to not judge others on cultural differences simply because one is uneducated on the subject matter.

The focus of the course is to broaden students’ perspectives on religion and make them more open-minded and better citizens of the world.

“There’s no world religion that’s right or wrong. It’s more about understanding what makes everybody human, understanding each other and why differences exist,” Sundal said. “Overall, an anthropological perspective helps with accepting diversity.”