Interesting class: Magic, Witchcraft & Religion
Oakland University has adapted to students’ needs, expanding intellectual horizons to offer nontraditional courses that stretch beyond core subjects and allow students to explore other areas of interest. OU News Bureau reporter Jenny Jaroneski caught up with Professor Henri Gooren to learn out about the Magic, Witchcraft & Religion class (AN 271/REL 271).
Well, it’s anthropology of religion of sorts, so you learn about magic, you learn about witchcraft, and you learn about religion but in different cultures and why it is so important to people all over the world.
How popular is it?
It is getting more popular. Used to be 10-20 students. (It’s) 28 students now.
Why does OU offer it?
Because religion you find in all cultures, and magic and witchcraft you find in almost all cultures. It is not a course in practical magic; it is not Hogwarts or Harry Potter. But it looks at why everywhere in the world people are doing rituals, incantations and magical spells. Even in our culture, there are people who have personal rituals. It’s not magic, it’s magical thinking. You are nervous and dealing with stress and if you go through certain fixed rituals you can control your situation a bit better: driving the same way to school, having your favorite pen, parking in the same spot.
How do you teach it?
I use a text that covers religion, witchcraft, magic and the theoretical side. There are class discussions … and some nice videos on religion and witchcraft are shown.
Give an example:
There are class discussions like why are children in parts of Africa branded as witches. We talk about religion: why is it so important to people and why do people change their religion. Some people are atheists or wiccans and they share their beliefs
How hard is it?
It is not easy. For people that want to learn about Harry Potter and stuff, not easy. There are some tough texts to read and some theories. Most students that take it are very interested in it and can manage. They like discussions and videos, they like looking at things that are useful to them. The class average may be a 3.3 or a 3.5 GPA.
What do students gain from it?
I think of magic or witchcraft as similar to religion except that it is more practical. People need results; they need to do something to get working to get healthy or they need to hurt their neighbor or they need to do something through magical means. And it is anthropology, so you try to understand why it is so important all over the world. Religion you have in all culture, and most cultures have some sort of idea about magic and witchcraft, so the course is about trying to understand why it is so important to people.
What’s the best lecture?
That is hard to say, I like a lot of it. The old 19th century anthropology — why are people religious, where did it come from? Or later anthropology —why is religion so important? It gives people a purpose in life and it soothes people in the face of death and disease. We look at it at an anthropological point of view.
Who takes this class?
Most students get to know me through an introduction course I teach, Anthropology 102: Culture and Human Nature. I get some people who take that class who like my teaching; I do a lot of religion in that class. I have students from that class who come to this class to study more about religion. I also do a course on religious conversion and globalization.
How often is it offered?
It is being repeated fall semester.
How long have we offered it?
I have offered it since 2007 when I arrived here. Professor James Dow offered it before me for about 15 years, but he did it a bit differently.
Senior Lauren Ferraro, a political science major at OU, took the class. Here’s what she had to say:
What do you think of the class?
It is all interesting — he is an interesting professor the way he teaches it, but I feel that it was misleading based on the title of the class. It should be historical thinkers or something. The way our book is, we are going back to anthropologists in the past and talking about how they viewed religion and what made religion.
Why should a student take it?
It gives you a good fundamental basis for the subject matter (and) will be needed if you are going further in an anthropology major. You get good insight from classmates on different religious views and certain aspects of religion and how they feel about it all.Tweet
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