Anthropology of Hinduism



This course is an anthropological exploration of Hindu religious life in India.  We will investigate the interrelated themes of: Hindu village life and religious practices, local conceptions of families and persons; life-cycle conceptions and rituals, healing and medicine; possession by gods, demons and ancestral spirits. The course includes lectures, ethnographic readings, films and discussion.


Introduction and Overview of Hinduism

Week I

T Aug. 30:  Introduction to the course



Th Sept. 1: Overview of Hinduism:


·        Way of Action

·        Way of Knowledge


·        Knott, Chs. 2 & 3


Week II

T Sept. 6: Overview of Hinduism


·        Way of Devotion


Film: 330 Million Gods


·        Knott, Chs. 4 & 5


Sept. 8 & 13 : No Class - Meckel at Society for Cultural Psychology Bi-annual Conference in Erlangen, Germany: Anthropology and Cultural Psychology of Religion(s)




Hindu Worship and Local Gods

Week III

Th Sept. 15:  Religion in an Indian Village


Film: The Wages of Action



·        Babb, Ch. 1, special attention to pp. 23-29 (“The problem of levels”).


Gods, Goddesses and Sacred Geography

Week IV

T Sept. 20: Feeding the Gods in                                  Chhatisgarh


Discussion Leaders: Charles & Jessica

Respondents: Colin & Caitlyn


·        Babb, Ch. 2, “The Foods of the Gods: Puja”

Th Sept. 22: Local Gods


Discussion Leaders: Nanna & Asad

Respondents: Kati & Pooja


·        Mines, Diane P. “The Hindu gods in a South Indian Village”

·        Marriott, McKim. “The Feast of Love”


Week V

Monday Sept. 26, 8:00 AM:


                        Kali and Tantra

Visiting Professor: Jeff Kripal


Discussion Leaders: Jeran & Suzanne

Respondents: Jessica & Kati




·        Kripal, Why the Tantrika is a Hero

·         Kripal, Remembering Ourselves



Th Sept. 29:  Sacred Geography and Ganga Mata


Discussion Leaders:  Olivia & Paul

Respondents:  Jennifer & Charles


·        The Goddess and Sacred Geography

·        Ganga Ma (selection from Barrett, “The Cosmic Sink” in Aghor Medicine: Pollution, Death, and Healing in Northern India)


Possession and Exorcism

Week VI

T Oct. 4:  Dancing Gods in

                a Himalayan Village


Video Clips:
The Mandan In Anidasu Village


Discussion Leaders: Kati & Colin

Respondents:  Asad & Suzanne




·        Opler, Morris. “Spirit Possession in a Rural Area of Northern India”

·         Daniel, Sheryl. “The Tool Box Approach of the Tamil”

·         Meckel. Descriptions of the Mandan in Anidasu Village


Th Oct. 6:  Possession and Women 1


Film: Eyes of Stone






Week VII

M Oct. 10: Paper prospectus due by email before 5 PM.  Put “Initial Prospectus” in the subject line.


T Oct. 11: No Class: Reading Day




Th Oct. 13: Possession and Women 2


Discussion Leaders: Caitlyn & Jennifer

Respondents: Nanna & Jeran




·        Nabokov, Isabelle. “Expel the Lover, Recover the Wife: Symbolic Analysis of a South Indian Exorcism”

·         Table of Three Approaches to Studying Hindu Cultures


M Oct. 17: Final prospectus due by email before Noon.  Put “Final Prospectus” in the subject line.


T Oct. 18: Exam 1







Family and the Life Cycle


Th Oct. 20: Hindu Families


Film: Dadi’s Family


Discussion Leaders: Pooja & Charles

Respondents: Olivia & Kevin


·        Mines & Lamb, pp. 9-13

·        Lamb, White Saris and Sweet Mangos: Aging, Gender and Body in North India, Ch. 2

·        Wadley, Susan. “One Straw from a Broom Cannot Sweep” pp. 11-22



Week IX

T Oct. 25: Samskaras and the Cycle of Life


Discussion Leaders: Jennifer & Olivia

Respondents: Colin & Charles


·        Babb, Ch. 3. “Rites of the Life Cycle”

·        Nicholas, Ralph. The Effectiveness of the Hindu Sacrament: Caste, Marriage and Divorce in Bengali Culture


Th Oct. 27: Marriage


Discussion Leaders: Suzanne & Pooja

Respondents: Jessica & Olivia




·        Nanda, Serena.  “Arranging a Marriage in India”

·        Bumiller, Elizabeth. “Marriage Now, Love Later”



Week X

T Nov. 1: Class in the evening (no class during the day because of All Day Advising). 


Film: Monsoon Wedding

8:15 PM in Library 321




Th Nov. 3: Old Age


Discussion Leaders: Kati & Kevin

Respondents: Asad & Jeran


·        Lamb, Sarah.  Love and Aging in Bengali Families.

Week XI

No Class: Compensation for Nov. 1 evening video. Meckel at Rice University in Houston to give paper.


Week XII

T Nov. 15: Death


Film: Ganges: River to Heaven

Discussion Leaders: Jessica & Jeran

Respondents: Nanna & Caitlyn


·        Parry, Ghosts, Greed, and Sin: The Occupational Identity of the Benares Funeral Priests. Man. Vol. 15. No. 1 (March, 1980), 88-111.

Th Nov. 17: (no Class) Work on you papers!



M Nov. 28: Paper due by email any time from today until 5 PM on Dec 2nd.  Put “First Paper Submission” in the subject line.




Thanksgiving Break



Caste, Class and Untouchability


Week XIV

T Nov. 29: Caste 1


Discussion Leaders: Colin

Respondents: Paul



·        Dickey, Sarah. “Anjali’s Prospects: Class Mobility in Urban India”

·        Seven Prevalent Misconceptions about India’s Caste System

·        Anand, Mulk Raj.  Untouchable, pp. 9-74


Th Dec. 1: Caste 2


Discussion Leaders: Nanna & Caitlyn

Respondents: Suzanne & Pooja



·        Gandhi. Mohandas K. Caste and Untouchability: in The Penguin Gandhi Reader, pp. 205-233.

·        Anand, Mulk Raj.  Untouchable, pp. 74-157.



Genders and Sexuality

Week XV

T Dec. 6 (day): Shifting Identities



·        Gold, Ann Grodzins. New Light in the House: Schooling Girls in Rural Northern India

·        Gamburd, Michelle Ruth.  Breadwinners No More: Identities in Flux


T Dec. 6 (evening): Film: “Fire”


8:15 in Library 321



Th Dec. 8: Exam 2







Week XVI

Dec. 14: Paper Resubmission due by Noon.  Send to me by email.  Put “Final Paper Submission” in the subject line.








Exam 1



Exam 2


Discussion Leading (2)


Discussion Responses (2)


Research Paper


Basic Participation

Active participation






Final Grade Values
1000 Points Possible

  920 to 1000 = A

  900 to 919 = A-

  880 to 899 = B+

  820 to 879 = B

  800 to 819 = B-

  780 to 799 = C+


720 to 779 = C

700 to 719 = C-

680 to 699 = D+

620 to 679 = D

600 to 619 = D-

599 and below = F


Track your progress in the class on Blackboard



Descriptions of Assignments: 

Exams: The two exams invite you to show (a) your knowledge of the content of the course readings and (b) your developed reflections on these readings.  Each exam will invite medium-length essay responses (minimum two long paragraphs) and shorter responses (one or two paragraphs).  There will be at least two medium-length essay questions and four short essay questions.  Each exam will take up the full class period.


Discussion Questions: Each student will direct two discussion sessions in class, in cooperation with one other student.  I will assign the dates for leading discussion.  The two students should come up with four discussions questions each (covering each of the readings) and consult with each other in advance to be sure that the questions are sufficiently different and that together they should generate a comprehensive discussion of the reading assignment(s) for that day.  After completing the questions, one of the two students should compile them into one document.  That document must be sent to me via email by 5:00 PM, two days before the class discussion.  I will approve the questions or suggest alterations.  The final list of four questions should be posted as one document on the discussion board by 8:00 PM the evening before the discussion.  List each set of questions under the name of the discussion leader who wrote them.  Each student should then write responses to his or her own two questions.  Those responses should be at least one substantial paragraph each.  Do not post these responses.  At the end of class on the day of the discussion, one of the two students should give me a paper copy of the eight questions along with the responses from both students.


Point reductions for lateness or undoc absence:

·        Any of the following will result in a 5 point reduction: late submission of the questions for my approval, late posting of the questions on the question board, late submission of the responses.

·        If a student does not show up in class to lead a discussion, s/he receives no points for the assignment plus a 20 point reduction from the basic participation score.


Discussion Responses: Each student will respond to questions for two discussion postings.  I will assign the two dates for each student.  The student will compose written responses of no less than one full paragraph for two questions from each discussion leader.  These responses should be submitted to me on the day of the discussion.  No need to post the responses.  Late responses will not be accepted.


Research Paper: The paper is an opportunity to develop your knowledge and thinking about a focused topic in the anthropological study of Hinduism.  Students must choose a topic and submit a prospectus by the deadline indicated above. The prospectus should include:

1.     A statement of the focused topic of the paper

2.     A research question related to the topic

3.     An initial thesis

4.     A bibliography of five scholarly books or articles that relate directly to the paper topics and question.


Examples of topics:

·        Ganga, Purity and Pollution

·        Spirit Possession among Women in India: Competing Theories

·        The Impact of Spirit Possession on Rural Family Life

·        Images of Old Age in Hindu Settings

·        Puja and Purity

·        The Worship of Ganesha in an Village Temple

·        Ramlila as a Performance Tradition in Southern Indian

·        Contemporary Renderings of the Stories of Krishna in Bharatnatyam

·        Changing Roles of Women in Hindu Families

·        Hindu Environmentalist Movements

·        Caste Relations in Urban Industrial Settings

·        The Life Cycle Rites of Marriage

·        Temple Prostitutes in the History of Indian Dance

·        Death Rites in Banaras

·        Female Hindu Sadhus

·        The Politics of Hindu Temple Construction in the U.S.

·        Etc.

Point reductions for lateness:

·        Initial and final prospectus:  Five points for each day after the deadline.  Lateness exceeding five days after the deadline forfeits the assignment.

·        First submission of paper: Must be submitted within the allotted period – Nov. 28 to Dec. 2.

·        No resubmissions after the final deadline at noon on Dec 14.

Papers should be organized in such a way as to present the scholarly topic, formulate a question, articulate a thesis, support the thesis with good scholarly material, discuss the implication of your thesis, raise questions that emerge from your work.  Paper must be at least fifteen pages in length, double spaced.  You may use footnotes or endnotes.  Citations can be in any standard format – e.g., Turabian, MLA, APA, Chicago – so long as the format is used consistently throughout.

          The final grade for the paper will be the averaged score of the two submissions, or the score of the one submission, if there is only one.


Participation: “Participation” means (1) present, (2) alert, (3) prepared with assignments, (4) punctual arrival.  Lack of any of these will affect the grade, excessive lack (e.g., more than 3 undocumented absences) is reason for dismissal from the class.


Active Participation: “Active Participation” refers to participation above and beyond the basics; for example, when a student asks questions, makes comments, seeks clarification, argues a point, brings outside material (like news articles, books, experiences, etc.) to share in class.  This category includes at least one individual meeting (10 pts) with me, to be scheduled in advance.



Very Important Info:

My Attendance Policy: Attendance is required.  Without regular attendance, students do not tend to do well in the class.  I allow two free days.  As a courtesy, please let me know when you will be taking a free day; there is no need to say why.  After the two free days, each undocumented absence results in a 20 point reduction.  If a student acquires more than three undocumented absences, s/he must withdraw from the class.  After the deadline for withdrawal, the student will receive an F for the course.  A note from a doctor, dentist, coach, or funeral director -- with contact information -- is acceptable documentation.  The student must present the note on the day that he or she returns to class, otherwise the absence will be counted as undocumented.  Without such a note, or in the case of a late note, the absence will not be counted as documented.  Please note that a phone call or email message saying that you are ill is not sufficient, nor is a note from the health center confirming an appointment.


          Lateness to class is noted. Three times late to class counts as an absence.  More than three times is reason for dismissal from the class.

Online Syllabus: This online syllabus can be accessed through the Blackboard course page but I recommend that you bookmark it so as to bypass BB when it goes down.  I might well alter the assignment schedule as seems appropriate or necessary; but I will not change the grading policies.



Email Communications: Students are responsible for checking the online syllabus and their email every day. I will announce any and all changes via email -- e.g., a changed deadline or altered reading assignment.

No Emailed Assignments: I cannot accept them unless you clear it with me in advance and only under unusual circumstances.  While I appreciate that print costs are considerable, I consider them a legitimate part of college expenses.  Running out of pay for print is not a valid reason for submitting an assignment by email.


Computer Failure: It is not a valid excuse for a late assignment.  Be sure to back up.  Broken or unreliable computer?  Use the computers at the college computer labs.


Academic dishonesty in any form -- including plagiarism of self or others, falsified documentation of a doctor’s note, etc. -- will not be tolerated.  Cheating of any kind results, without exception, in an “F” for the course without the option of withdrawal.

Food in class:
Drinks and snacks of the very quiet variety are allowed in class (e.g., poi, rasgula, duck pate), nothing else.

No activated cell phones in the classroom (so please turn them off).