The Origin and Evolution of Religious Movements

Fall 2011









Required Texts:

1.     Bart Ehrman, Jesus.: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium Oxford University Press, 1999.

2.     Dominic Green, Three Empires on the Nile: Victorian Jihad, 1869-1899. Free Press, 2007.

3.     Richard Horsley and John Hanson. Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus. Trinity Press International, 1999.

4.     Alice Kehoe. The Ghost Dance: Ethnohistory and Revitalization. Waveland Press, 2006.

5.     Ian Lustick, For the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel. Council on Foreign Relations, 1988.



Course Description:


This course will be divided into three parts. The course will begin with an overview of an anthropological approach to the study of religion.  This portion of the course will emphasize the application of scientific research methods to the study of human religious expression, with an emphasis on the importance of objective reasoning, critical evaluation, an operational methodology, and an adherence to both an etic perspective and Uniformitarian principles.  The discussion will then focus on the relationship between religion and the political economy.  Within this context, religion will be examined as both a mechanism of social and political control and as a vehicle of sociopolitical change.


Several specific religious revitalization movements will then be investigated during the second part of the course in order to illustrate the pervasiveness of this type of social movement and the similarity of the underlying causes of such disparate movements.  The religious movements we will  examine will include: (1) Cargo Cults in the South Pacific; (2)  the Ghost Dance of the Plains Indians, (as well as the rise of the Handsome Lake religion among the Iroquois and the emergence of other Native American prophets such as Neolin among the Delaware and Tenskwatawa among the Shawnee); (3) The Mau Mau movement in Kenya and the rise of the Kimbangist and New Zion Churches in the Belgian Congo; (3) the origin and spread of Mormonism in the U.S., and (4)


We will then examine the origin and evolution of three of the world's major religious movements: (1) the rise of Islam in Arabia and the emergence of subsequent Islamic movements, including the Mahdist movement in the Sudan and the Tijaniya movement in West Africa; (2) historical and contemporary Jewish religious movements in Israel/Palestine; and (3) the origin of Christianity in Roman Palestine during the first century CE.  We will begin our discussion of the origin of Judaism and Christianity by discussing the political revolt led by Judah Maccabees which liberated Judea from Seleucid (Greek) rule.  The Maccabees have served as an ideal for Jewish messianic movements throughout history, including the present. We will also examine the political economy of Palestine during the first centuries BCE and CE in order to understand the social, political  and religious context that gave rise to two major Jewish revolts against the Roman Empire.  This was also the context within which Jesus and his followers lived  and preached and within which early Christianity emerged.  In particular, we will focus on the Roman colonial administration in Judea and its policies, the political rule of the Herods, the sociopolitical activity of the Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, Sicarii and the many bandits, prophets and messianic claimants of that time,


Having done this, we will critically examine the New Testament itself, concentrating on the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and Thomas, the Epistles of Paul, and the Acts of the Apostles.  Using, linguistic, contextual, stylistic and pattern analysis, we will attempt to place each of these sources within their social and historical context in order to get a better understanding of how the historical Jesus evolved into the Jesus of mythology and how this was related to specific sociopolitical factors underlying the evolution of Christianity and the Christian Church.   In particular, we will focus on the conflict that developed shortly after Jesus' death between the Jerusalem Christians led by James (Jesus' brother) and the Gentile Christians led by Paul.  We will also examine the conflict that developed during the second through fourth centuries between Orthodox and Gnostic Christians.  It is absolutely necessary to understand these conflicts in order to critically read and interpret surviving Christian writings dealing with the life and times of Jesus. The conflict between Orthodox and Gnostic factions within the early Church and the eventual ascendancy of Orthodox Church leaders under Constantine in the 4th century CE had a profound effect on subsequent Christian dogma, on the writing and editing of the New Testament, on the success and spread of Christianity, and on the politics of heresy in Western European history. We will then examine the Albigensian Crusade in order to examine how the emergence of this Christian movement --and the Church's response to it-- must be understood within the context of the European political economy at the timer and how it mirrored the evolution of the other movements we have studied.





The following procedures will be used to arrive at a student's final grade:


1.    Mid-term exam

2.    Final exam (cumulative)

3.    Research paper

4.    Class participation 







Research Paper:


1.   Each student must undertake a research paper that examines a specific religious movement from an anthropological perspective.  The religious movement must be one that has taken place outside the U.S. The research paper should be approximately 15 pages long (4,000-5,000 words).


2.   All assignments submitted in relation to the research paper MUST be typed. Handwritten materials will NOT be accepted. Also, ALL research papers must be properly referenced and follow the AAA referencing style.  NOTE: Internet sources will be accepted as valid bibliographic references only in special circumstances and very sparingly.


3.    All students are expected to meet with the instructor to discuss the progress of his or her paper. This will help improve the quality of the final paper and, thus, the grade that the paper receives. 


4.    A library instruction class has been scheduled to help students with their research.  Students will need to obtain research materials that are, for the most part, not available in the Trexler Library in order to complete the research paper for this course.  This will necessitate either travel to other libraries in the Lehigh Valley or extensive use of Interlibrary Loan services through the campus library.  Students should be aware that obtaining research materials through Interlibrary Loan may take several weeks and should, therefore, start their research papers as soon as possible.  Not receiving sufficient sources in time to analyze your subject and write your paper will seriously affect the quality of the paper you submit and, therefore, the grade your paper receives.  Not receiving your Interlibrary Loan sources in time to complete your paper is NOT a valid excuse for an incomplete or inadequate paper. 


5.    Although the primary concern is with the quality of the ideas and analysis presented, essays and research papers will also be evaluated in terms of their adherence to accepted writing standards.  They must be typed clearly and legibly. They must also be organized, grammatically correct and free from spelling errors. Papers must, therefore, be carefully proof-read before they are submitted.  A sloppy and poorly written paper will not receive as high a grade as a comparable paper which is neat and clearly written, which expresses a coherent theme, which is well referenced, and which contains few spelling and grammatical errors.  Having an idea that you cannot express clearly and concisely is not much better than not having the idea at all.  All students are, therefore, strongly encouraged to make use of the Campus Writing Center.



Grading Policy:


1.   ALL assignments and examinations MUST be completed or taken at the time scheduled.  Make-up tests will only be given in the event of an emergency and will receive 10-point reduction in grade for each day they are late (i.e., a score of 80 on a make-up test or paper will be recorded as a 70, 60, 50, etc., depending on the number of days it is late).  The grade on any exam not taken or assignment not completed will be zero.  Similarly, incomplete course grades (I) will be reduced by 10 points when they are completed.


2.   ALL materials assigned for reading or presented or discussed in class (including films) will potentially  be included in examinations.


3.    Attendance will not be taken, but absence from class is NOT an acceptable excuse for a student's failure to complete an assignment or examination.  It is the student's responsibility to obtain the necessary information on days that he or she misses class.  In addition, a student who regularly misses class cannot expect special consideration in the event of poor grades.  Furthermore, 20% of a student’s grade in the course is based on participation, which includes both attendance and participation in class discussions.  Everyone in the class begins with a "C" (73) for participation, and an individual's grade increases or decreases depending on the quality of their participation.  While I don’t grade down for one or two classes missed, I do expect students to attend all classes, and excessive absences result in a reduced grade for participation.  (Obviously, if a student is not in class, participation for that day is zero.)  I also assign a higher participation grade for those students who come to class prepared to contribute positively to class discussions or who discuss issues with me through email.  Conversely, I assign a lower grade for those students who come to class unprepared, who do not participate in class discussions or whose classroom behavior is either inappropriate or disruptive.


4.   In the final analysis, responsibility for completing all course requirements rests with the student. If the student has any doubt on any matter regarding the course, he or she should contact the instructor BEFORE the problem becomes insurmountable.  One of the benefits of the small size of the Muhlenberg Campus is the potential that exist for easy faculty-student contact.


5.    Plagiarism constitutes a violation of the Academic Behavior Code and will be dealt with VERY STRICTLY.  Depending on the nature of the plagiarism, a student could receive a failing grade for the course; be referred to the Dean's Office for judicial review; and have a "VF" (violation of Academic Behavior Code) grade entered on their transcripts.  If a student is in doubt about a specific situation, it is his or her responsibility to consult the instructor or some other appropriate person (such as a librarian or writing tutor) for clarification.




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Anthropology and the Study of Religion

Faith can move mountains, but not furniture.



"Web of Religion"

William Blake






Occam's Razor





1.  Horwitz, "Dying for Dixie." [R]

2.  Owen, "Preslianity: Religious Devotion to Elvis Presley in America." [R]


Film:  "Mondo Elvis"


Saint. Elvis the Divine



3.   Schuyler & Trinh, The Apocalypse at Jonestown.

4.   Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown, National Public Radio.





*     *     *


5.   Harris and Johnson, "Religion." [R]

6  Southwold, "Buddhism and the Definition of Religion." [R]


*     *     *


7.   Abruzzi, The Myth of Chief Seattle.

8.   Sagan, The Fine Art of Baloney Detection.

9.   Hill's Criteria of Causality

10.   Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, Scholarship and Public Understanding

11.   Science and Anthropology.

12.   Aristotelian vs. Galilean Forms of Explanation

13.   Why Cultural Anthropology Students Should Learn Quantitative Research Methods




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Sacred Texts





"Creator:  a comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh."

--H.L. Menken






"A concern with knowing the world, rather than advocating a view of the world because it confirms some political, ideological, or religious project, has always been fundamental to scientific philosophy." 

  --Lawrence Kuznar, Reclaiming a Scientific Anthropology (1997)



"The aim of scientific research is to formulate explanatory theories which are: (1) predictive (or retrodictive), (2) testable (or falsifiable), (3) parsimonious, (4) of broad scope, and (5) integratable or cumulative within a coherent and expanding corpus of theories."


--Marvin Harris (1994)






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Religion and the Political Economy

I was born okay the first time.




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Right to Life Movement






Religion: Nigeria's latest flashpoint





India:  When religion and freedom clash





A Palestinian Bomber's Mother Speaks Out





1.    Kurtz, “Virgin of Guadalupe and the Politics of Becoming Human.” [R]

2.    Evans-Pritchard, "The Nuer Concept of Spirit in Relation to the Social Order." [R]

3.    Marshall Sahlins, The Segmentary Lineage: An Organization of Predatory Expansion. (JSTOR)



*     *     *


4.    Silberman, “Who Were the Israelites?” [R]

5.    Genesis & Exodus. Bible Gateway

6.    Abruzzi, Genealogy, Politics and History in the Book of Genesis.


*     *     *


7.    Articles on Sharia in northern Nigeria.

8.    Abruzzi, "Conquest and Colonization: The Political Ecology of Colonial Expansion."

9.    Abruzzi, Colonization and Resistance in North America and Palestine: Similar Historical Processes

10.    "Religious Conversions". The Economist (August 6, 2008)


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Religion and Politics in Jakarta




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Religious Movements

Atheism is a non-Prophet Organization.


John Frum Cult




Shawnee Prophet




Simon Kimbangu





1.   Harris, "Phantom Cargo." in Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches.  [R]

2.   Worsley. The Trumpet Shall Sound, Introduction to both the First and Second Editions & Chapters 1-4. [R]


*     *     *



4.   O'Dea, "Who Are the Mormons? in The Mormons. [R]

5.   Stegner,  "Forty Thousand Saints in One Act." in Revitalization Movements packet. [R]


*     *     *


6.   Banton, "African Prophets." [R]

7.   Martin, "Kimbanguism: A Prophet and His Church." in Revitalization Movements packet. [R]


*     *     *


Jim Jones at Jonestown







Uganda: Unholy Children’s Crusade





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The Ghost Dance

God, protect me from your followers!


The Ghost Dance





The Paiute Prophet










1.   Kehoe, The Ghost Dance.


FILM:  Ghost Dance [R]











Death at Wounded Knee






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Islam and Revitalization





The Mahdi













Osama bin Laden / Al Qaeda



1.   Wolf, "The Social Organization of Mecca  and the Origins of Islam." [R]

2.   Green, Three Empires on the Nile.

3.   Sultan-I-Rome, The Malakand Jihad

4.   Hess, Mad Mullah of Northern Somaliland

5.   Tyler, "Carter and the Shah: Khomeini's Revolution" [R]





Ayatolla Khomeini



















"Theology:  an effort to explain the unknowable by putting it into terms of the not worth knowing."

--H.L. Menken







The Religious Divide in America


America is one of the most religious countries in the industrialised world. Over 80% of Americans claim to believe in God, compared with 62% of the French and 52% of Swedes. About two-thirds of Americans claim membership of a church, 40% go to church once a week, and 43% describe themselves as born-again Christians. Three times as many people believe in the Virgin birth as in evolution.  . . .  But America is also one of the most secular countries in the world. The constitution guarantees a rigorous separation of church and state, and secular groups are assiduous in using the courts to enforce that separation. (On February 25th, the Supreme Court ruled that states could withhold scholarships from students studying divinity.) Public schools recoil from even the mildest religious imagery. More than 29m Americans say that they have “no religion”, a number that exceeds all but two religious denominations, Roman Catholics and Baptists. For the most part, the people who run America's media industries in New York and Hollywood are aggressively secular, combining intellectual hostility to Middle America's religious fundamentalists with a generous measure of cultural disdain.

--The Economist (February 28-04)












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Jewish Religious Movements







Masada: Myth vs. Reality











1.    Maccabees 1, Bible Gateway.

2.    Asimov, Vol. 2, Chapter 3. ("Maccabees 1").  [R]


*   *   *   *   *

3.    Horsley and Hanson, Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus.

4.    Pedahzur and Perliger, Jewish Terrorism in Israel, Chapter 1.

5.    Horsley, "The Sicarii: Ancient Jewish "Terrorists." [R]

6.    Zeitlin, "The Sicari and Masada". [R]



*     *     *


MAP: Palestine under the Maccabees


MAP: Land of Israel in the 1st Century



*     *     *





7.    Lustick, For the Land and the Lord, Chapters 1- 4.

8.    Pedahzur and Perliger, Jewish Terrorism in Israel, Chapter 2.

9.    Neff, Hamas: A Pale Image of the Jewish Irgun and Lehi Gangs.

10.    Knell, King's Torah splits Israel's religious and secular Jews

11.    Muhareb, The King's Torah and the Killing of Palestinians.

12.    Abruzzi, Indians and Palestinians: Similar Historical Processes





Moses and the Exodus from Egypt









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The Jesus Movement

If you are born again, do you have two belly buttons?







Bible Maps






MAP: Roman Empire






1.   Funk, Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, "Introduction", The Five Gospels [R]

2.   New Testament: Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.  Bible Gateway

3.   Ehrman, Jesus.: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.



MAP: Palestine in the 1st Century



*     *     *


4.   Harris, "The Secret of the Prince of   Peace," in Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches.  [R]

5.   Abruzzi, The Jesus Movement.

6.   Brandon, “Jesus and the Zealots.” in Jesus and the Zealots. [R]



FILM:  From Jesus to Christ  [R]



*     *     *



7.   Brandon, "Suffered Under Pontius Pilate: The Problem of the Roman Execution of Jesus." in Jesus and the Zealots. [R]

8.   W.R. Wilson, "The Trial." in Jesus: A Life [R].

9.   A. N. Wilson, “The Execution of Jesus.”  [R]



*     *     *



Top 10 Odd Religious Relics












The Greatest Action Story

Ever Told


A Slightly Different Version

of the Original Story









The Holy Prepuce








Easter Gift from the Evangelical Lutheran Church















"Archbishop:  a Christian ecclesiastic of a rank superior to that attained by Christ."

--H.L. Menken





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Jesus on the Beach















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Christianity and the Politics of Heresy

Christianity has Pagan DNA.




Mary Magdalene







1.   New Testament: “Acts of the Apostles,” Bible Gateway


MAP: Expansion of Christianity



*     *     *


2.   Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels

3.   The Gospel of Thomas

4.   The Gospel of Mary

5.   The Gospel of Phillip

6.   Infancy Gospel of Thomas

7.   The Protevangelium of James


FILM:  Jesus, Mary and DaVinci  [R]



*     *     *


8.   The Albigensian Crusade

9.   Harris, "The Great Witch Craze." in Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches.








The Brother of Jesus



James: The Brother of Jesus





The Holy Prepuce







"Christ died for our sins.  Dare we make his martyrdom meaningless by not committing them?"

--Jules Feiffer





Mary Magdalene in Provence
















The Mary Magdalene Reliquary (above left) is located in a crypt beneath the Basilica to Mary Magdalene in Saint Maximin de Provence, France (above center) where Mary Magdalene is purportedly buried.  The reliquary contains what  many believe is Mary Magdalene's skull (see above right).  According to local beliefs, Mary Magdalene left Palestine with Mary (the mother of Jesus) and Mary (the aunt of Jesus) and landed at what is today known as Sts. Marie de la Mer, a small village on the Mediterranean south of St. Maximin.  According to local tradition, Jesus' mother and aunt remained in Sts. Marie de la Mer, while Mary Magdalene left the village to live naked (with just her long hair covering her body) as a hermit for 33 years in a cave at Baume (southeast of St. Maximin).   Each year in late May, Gypsies converge on Sts. Marie de la Mer to celebrate the landing of the three Maries in southern France.




Chapel in the Cave at St. Baume where Mary Magdalene is believed to have lived for 33 years as a hermit following the death of Jesus.



St. Maries de la Mer Church where the remains of the two Mary's are believed to reside.





Chapel on the cliff above the Cave at St. Baume where Mary Magdalene is believed to have been carried to heaven by angels.










Magdalene Laundries





Over a period of 150 years, an estimated 30,000 women were imprisoned by the Catholic Church and forced to work without pay.








"Puritanism:  the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

--H.L. Menken




Gifts for the Irreverent






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