When browsing for classes to take during the upcoming semester, it is hard to miss this title in the course catalog: Anthropology of Religion, Magic and Witchcraft. The class’s title gives it a bizarre connotation but in reality it is a common area of study for anthropologists. At UCLA, the course is called Anthropology of Religion. The name of the course here at PCC retains “witchcraft” partially due to its occult appeal.
Several instructors teach the course this semester and one of whom, Andrea Murray, will be teaching it in London for the spring semester abroad. Derek Milne, a professor who teaches it on campus, assigns some colorful coursework that includes the creation of a “voodoo doll” and a divination assignment. Using ritual means to learn about the future, divination includes anything religious that involves predicting the future.
“I’ve had a few students that have been fundamentalist Christian or Orthodox Jewish or Muslim who have had difficulty with the assignments because they feel like the assignments themselves go against their religious beliefs,” Milne said. “I give people alternatives. The fundamentalist Christian wrote a paper on Christian prophecy.”
While trying to be inclusive of his students, Milne has also managed to be supportive of local business—without trying. In fact, he was once thanked by a local fortune teller for dramatically increasing her business. Edwin Rodriguez, an atheist history major, seems to fit in to Milne’s observation of the typical student who enrolls in the course. Milne said intrigued students are generally people who have intellectual interest in the occult or who are agnostic or atheist but find religion fascinating.
“I am looking forward to the Divination assignment, writing about that experience and creating a voodoo doll,” said currently enrolled student, Edwin Rodriguez, “I have always thought religion and the role it plays in how a society develops and is structured is an interesting field to study.”
Another instructor who teaches the course on campus is Lee Coltman. He seems passionate about sparking an inquisitive spirit in his students, which seems like an important trait for anthropologists.
“My job is to offer what my field has said—how we’ve collected data and how other people have come up with answers. To ask the question, not to have a personal answer,” Coltman said.
The course fills the same requirement as cultural anthropology, so if that is a student’s academic to-do list and they are the adventurous type, step right up. Sorry Harry Potter fans, this isn’t defense against the dark arts, but it is a course to expand horizons and open your mind to the magical beliefs and practices that other cultures have to offer.