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Class explores magic, witchcraft and religion

By Fabian Mayer, September 10 2015 —

Magic, Witchcraft and Gods — while it sounds like a topic that might be studied at Hogwarts, it’s actually an anthropology (ANTH) course offered at the University of Calgary.

ANTH 363 — Magic, Witchcraft and Gods: Anthropology of Religion — starts by asking what religion is. The course then goes on to look at myth, magic, cults and witchcraft concluding by examining the relationship between religion and terrorism.

Professor Chris Holdsworth teaches the course. He cited illness as an example of how societies deal differently with certain issues.

“Most people in Canadian society think of diseases as being due to germs and genetics. But in other societies it might be due to witchcraft,” Holdsworth said.

While students often find this strange, Holdsworth believes the value of anthropology is gaining an appreciation of differing perspectives.

“It’s only bizarre because we’re so used to our own way of thinking,” Holdsworth said. “Once you realize that it fits, it makes sense from their perspective given their understanding of how the world works.”

The name of the course used to be “Anthropological Perspectives on Religion.” According to Holdsworth, it was changed to “Magic, Witchcraft and Gods” to make it more appealing.

He thinks students who take the class because of the interesting name often end up getting a lot out of it.

“People are kind of surprised when they do take it. It’s not what they expected in the sense that it’s not to make fun of these religions and beliefs, it’s to understand them,” Holdsworth said.

Holdsworth includes discussion time as part of the class, so he can hear students’ views on the topics covered. 

“There’s a great deal of ethnic diversity within the class and I think that’s great because people have a lot more perspectives on things and so they can contribute more to it.”

Holdsworth said he sees students start thinking differently by the end of the course.

“What I like to see the students get out of it is where they question their own beliefs and they see that there are other ways of thinking and doing things,” Holdsworth said.

The only prerequisite for the course is ANTH 203. As of Sept. 8, the class has space for 46 more students.

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