I have taught courses on anthropology, writing, and social science at Babson College, Brandeis University, the College of the Holy Cross, and Harvard University. These courses introduce students to the fundamentals of anthropological thinking and provide a breadth of exposure to multicultural expressions of religious, political, legal, economic, linguistic, and social life. Here are recent versions of the syllabus for each of the courses I have taught. For details on individual assignments or earlier versions of these teaching documents, feel free to get in touch with me directly.
Anthropology and Social Science
A one-semester introduction to the main modes of cultural anthropological analysis of non-Western and Western cultures alike, such as those of Africa south of the Sahara, Southeast Asia, Melanesia, Polynesia, and the Americas. This course explores what it means to be human from a comparative and cross-cultural perspective, with topics including ethnographic methods, concepts of culture, symbolic communication, ecological processes, kinship, religion, gender, hierarchy, economics, medicine, political life, and transnational processes. The course equips students with the analytical skills to live alongside people from unfamiliar cultures with empathy and mutual understanding while developing a critical self-reflection on their own cultural backgrounds, thus “making the strange familiar and the familiar strange.”
Anthropology of Religion
From an ethnographic and qualitative perspective, we will explore religious expression around the globe, including the major Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam but also Buddhism, Hinduism, African religions, and lesser-known faiths from small-scale, non-industrialized societies. Emphasis is placed on the analytic categories for understanding religious experiences and the prospects and challenges of cross-cultural comparison. We will adopt the techniques of anthropological inquiry to consider the social forces at work within religious life, including the political, colonial, gendered, and transnational dimensions of worship. Topics of ritual, mythology, ecology, witchcraft, trance, magic, and science will guide our exploration of belief and spirituality beyond the formal boundaries of institutional religions. Experiential assignments, including participant observation and interviews with practitioners of unfamiliar spiritual traditions, are combined with in-depth written exercises to strengthen intercultural and communication skills.
Anthropology of Law
This course explores cross-cultural variation within and among legal institutions. Through the medium of ethnography, as well as original primary-source research into court proceedings and legal disputes, we consider how law becomes a mechanism for the maintenance of social order at the same time that it can contribute to social inequity. We will address central questions in the anthropology of law: How does our cultural background influence how we conceptualize justice? What are the consequences of finding oneself between competing legal systems? Our focus will be to examine critically the social and cultural dynamics behind dispute resolution, corporate law, crime, torts, religious law, and international courts, as well as dilemmas around policing and other ways people encounter “the law” in everyday life. Case studies from diverse legal environments in both industrialized and small-scale societies will help place Western law traditions in a comparative, global perspective.
This course provides an introduction to the methods and tools of linguistic anthropology, one of the discipline’s four principal subfields in the American tradition. With contemporary and historical primary sources along with theoretical texts, we will consider how spoken language and its representation in other modalities become mechanisms through which differences of class, region, race, ethnicity, and sexuality are produced and contested. A basic premise of the course is that language functions as far more than a mere neutral medium to denote ideas but actively shapes our identities and the material conditions of our lives. The techniques of semiotic analysis, which we will develop through ethnographic case studies drawn from diverse cultural settings, will allow for nuanced insights into how modes of communication shape the complex lived experience of public discourse, media, performance, the political sphere, religious and magical language, temporality, personhood, stigmatized speech, and language ideology. The role of language in constructing epistemic authority and legitimizing the social order will be central themes. The semester will conclude with applied independent research into language use in specific cultural contexts through the presentation of original linguistic data.
African Ways of Knowing
This course surveys the variety and diversity of knowledge production across Africa south of the Sahara. Through readings, films, written essays, and rigorous conversation, seminar participants will consider the difficulties in defining “knowledge” and how writers from philosophy, literature, and the social sciences (especially anthropology) have approached this question from various African perspectives. We will consider the distinctiveness and overlap between various ways of knowing, from sciences to religion to embodied sentiments, and how these are put into practice within various African countries, with case studies from West Africa, East Africa, and southern Africa. Special attention is given to the social contexts of epistemology and how knowledge is produced within cultural and structural architectures. The semester concludes with a consideration of the global politics of knowledge and the challenges of translating epistemologies across cultural, national, and continental boundaries. The course offers an exploration of what Africans can teach the rest of the world about contemporary social phenomena and about the human condition more broadly.
Foundations of Critical Inquiry (First-Year Introduction to the Liberal Arts)
For our section of the “nature and environment” theme, we will take a comparative approach through time and across diverse societies to examine how humans are a product of their environment and simultaneously effect deep, even global, changes to it. Survival (and thriving) of our species depends on continual adaptation to the physical elements of earth, but it depends equally on learning to live in complex, often tense relationships alongside myriad species, whether plant, animal, fungi, or microbial. We will explore the ways in which who we are biologically, psychologically, and culturally—that is, the elements that speak to what some people call “human nature”—is wrapped up with the world around us. From domestication and food production to religious ritual, industrialization, and political violence, the most important forces that drive our twenty-first-century world have a long, often unrecognized history of interactive dynamics between people and the natural world. This course will draw on evidence from the physical sciences, social sciences, and humanistic inquiry to consider diverse responses to the challenging, unresolved questions arising from our inevitable entanglements with nature.
At Harvard University, I teach a first-year writing seminar in expository writing. Although the course texts are themed around ethnographic approaches to religion and rationality, the class is grounded in intensive, individualized, and workshopped writing instruction to provide students with the argumentative skills at the heart of a liberal arts education.
Rationality and the Supernatural
Is it irrational to believe in malevolent spirits? Why are certain rituals invoking supernatural forces deemed more prestigious than others? Despite their prevalence across the globe, including in high-tech, industrialized countries, belief systems centered around unconventional cosmologies—such as witchcraft, magic, and specters—are often marginalized and suppressed as backward, unmodern, or even dangerous. What drives people to believe in such notions that can seem, from a scientific or “rational” perspective, to be illogical? This course will guide us through systems of thought and practice at the margins of mainstream Euro-American cosmological and religious models. We will explore how cultural anxieties over witches, demons, aliens, and other unseen (yet sometimes nonetheless palpable) forces operate according to their own internal logic yet simultaneously reflect historical and societal dynamics that tell us about more than the practitioners themselves.
From 2014 to 2018 at Brandeis University, I taught a year-long writing course for the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program. Below are the syllabuses I developed. Each nine-month course is divided into two parts: a first semester taught in the fall and a second taught in the spring, each with the same students and both of which develop similar themes yet allow students to explore different genres of writing.