ANTH 5250

Instructor: Dr. Bilinda Straight                                                                   

Moore Hall 1001; Tel: 387-0409                                                                                       

email: Bilinda DOT straight AT

Web Page:


Spirits and Medicine


How is healing linked to belief? What do we or should we mean by belief, experience, and consciousness? How do the beliefs and cultural understandings of healing professionals mutually shape the understandings and experiences of their clients? What is the relationship between body and mind cross-culturally, and how does this relate to healing? In this course, we will seek answers to these and related questions. First, we will consider the issue of perception itself—how individuals come to their understandings of the world. Related to this, we will also examine some anthropological ideas about what human consciousness and experience are—an issue that will be central for us as we seek to understand different forms of illness and healing. Then we will look at healing practices in the United States and cross-culturally as they relate to belief, experience, and consciousness, including: western medicine and alternatives, spirit possession and trance, and methods of divination.


Required Course Readings


Csordas, Thomas. 1990. The Sacred Self: A Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


Damasio, Antonio. 1999. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace.


Desjarlais, Robert. 1993. Body and Emotion: The Aesthetics of Illness and Healing in the Nepal Himalayas. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.


Lock, Margaret. 2002. Twice Dead: Organ Transplants and the Reinvention of Death. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


Shelley, Mary. 1996. Frankenstein. Norton Critical Edition, edited by J. Paul Hunter.




Grading (See Grading Key for complete instructions)


            Attendance/Participation    15%                E-Learning Discussions        30%

            Preliminary Bibliography     20%                Final Essay                             35%


Attendance/Participation (15% of grade): In a class of this kind and size, your presence and participation are essential to the quality of the experience for others as well as yourself. Your attendance grade will be based on the number of days you are absent, calculated as points missed on a one-hundred percent scale.


e-learning Discussions (30% of grade). Each week, you will write approximately 300 words summarizing the week�s readings, which you will post to the elearning Discussion Board no later than 8 AM Monday morning (you can post any time up until then, including the weekend, the middle of the night, etc.). Then, between Monday at 8AM and Tuesday at 8AM, you will post a comment that engages with at least one fellow student�s summaries. Your summaries should summarize main points and demonstrate you have read all readings. It is encouraged, but not required, to raise a question for consideration in class.


Preliminary Bibliography (20% of grade): This will be an essay and annotated bibliography of sources you are using in your paper. Begin with an introduction that includes the thesis statement or argument you will be pursuing in your paper. Discuss the kinds of material (essays, books, popular media, local fieldwork you will use to pursue your argument. Next, provide a one-paragraph summary for each of 4 or 5 sources, and a sentence or two of how they should be useful to your paper. Include full bibliographic information for each of these sources, and do not include course readings for annotated bib!  Course readings should be used for your paper where appropriate but do not count towards this assignment. You must use at least one book. Web sources are not allowed (except for downloaded articles from scholarly journals available online). If your topic is on something on the internet itself (following chat rooms on a particular topic, or analysis of online media) this is your data, not your bib sources.


Final Essay (35% of grade): This will be a 10-12 page research essay for undergraduates, 15 pages for graduate students. (I will read up to 20 pages.) It can be on a topic of your choice, but must be relevant to the course readings. If you have difficulty in coming up with a topic, please feel free to see me. Include a bibliography for anything you cite. When you cite, quote, or paraphrase in text, put an in-text citation in parentheses (author�s last name, date, page number if a direct quote).  It looks like this: (Straight 1997) for citation or paraphrase, (Straight 1997: 37) for direct quote. You should always cite when you are drawing upon someone�s research or ideas. If you conduct any of your own interviews, you should create pseudonyms for your respondents and cite quotations from those interviews like this (Miller interview, 2002).


Late Work: NO LATE WORK WILL BE ACCEPTED—(any exceptions made for documented reasons will be docked one letter grade).


Academic Integrity: You are responsible for making yourself aware of and understanding the policies and procedures in the Undergraduate Catalog (pp. 268-269)/Graduate Catalog (pp. 26-27) that pertain to academic integrity. These policies include cheating, fabrication, falsification and forgery, multiple submission, plagiarism, complicity and computer misuse. If there is reason to believe you have been involved in academic dishonesty, you will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. You will be given the opportunity to review the charge(s). If you believe you are not responsible, you will have the opportunity for a hearing. You should consult with me if you are uncertain about an issue of academic honesty prior to the submission of an assignment or test.

Bilinda Straight�s

Grading Key


All quantitative semester grades are multiplied by the percentage of the spread they represent. Thus, if you have a 90 on attendance/participation, multiplied by 20% of the spread, gives you 18. All grades thus calculated are added together to equal the total percentage out of one hundred. Your semester grade is then calculated as per the key below. Using this key and instructions, you can keep track of your own grade as the semester progresses, but always feel free to ask me for assistance in calculating it.


                                                Grade Scale for Final Grades


97-100                       A+


94-96                         A


87-93                         BA


84-86                         B


77-83                         CB


74-76                         C


67-73                         DC


60-66                         D


below 60                    E




Course schedule


As Buddha said, change is inherent in the universe. Like everything, this schedule is subject to change. Indeed, the only contract for readings I will make here is that you will indeed read what follows. I reserve the right to add readings as we go.


PART ONE: Consciousness, Self, and Belief. Can western theories of self, consciousness, and social memory be reconciled with anthropological understandings of intersubjectivity, historical consciousness, and social memory? We will start addressing this question here, and will still be considering it when we leave this course.


Module One: 1/8 Overview of course (brief); Movie: Memento; discussion


Module Two: 1/15 "Core Consciousness" And now, for something completely different.


Reading:  Feeling of What Happens (Damasio) Appendix (pp. 312-335) and Parts I and II (pp. 3-130). It may be unfamiliar reading, but do your best.


Module Three: 1/22 Habitus and Social Memory in Anthropology


Reading: Chaper 2 (Structures and Habitus, pp. 72-95) in Pierre Bourdieu's Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977) and Chapter 4 (Habitus and Emotion, pp. 99-128) in Deborah Reed-Danahay's Locating Bourdieu (2005). [Both in elearning]


Module Four: 1/29 Consciousness, Self, and Emotion Explained?


            Reading: Feeling of What Happens (Damasio) Parts III and IV (pp. 131-311).


PART TWO: Death, Self, Personhood, and Soul


Module Five 2/5 Death and Beyond, A Beginning


Readings: Shelley's Frankenstein (in its entirety); Butler's essay in Frankenstein (pp. 302-313); and Twice Dead (Lock) Preamble-Ch. 2 (pp. 1-77).

[Recommended in Frankenstein: Moers' Female Gothic (pp. 214-224; Lipking's essay reading Frankenstein through Rousseau (pp. 313-330).]


Module Six: 2/12 Death, Self, and Consciousness in the US and Japan


            Reading: Twice Dead (Lock) Chapters 3-end (pp. 78-377).


Module Seven: 2/19 Death, Grief, and Resurrection in Northern Kenya


Reading: Introductory Excerpt and Chapters 6-7 plus Glossary (pp. 26-36; 115-152; 247-251) of Bilinda Straight's Miracles and Extraordinary Experience in Northern Kenya [in Waldo e-reserves]


PART THREE: Touch, Pain, Medicine, and Personhood


Module Eight: 2/26 Bodies, Souls, Emotion, and Pain


            Reading: Body and Emotion (Desjarlais) Part I (pp. 3-156).


Module Nine: 3/12 Touch (Part 1), Body/Mind, Memory, and Pain (Part 2)


Reading: Chapter 7 (Touch, pp. 97-111) in Nina Jablonski's (2006) Skin: A Natural History; Jenny Slatman 'Transparent Bodies: Revealing the Myth of Interiority' (pp. 107-122 in Renee van de Vall and Robert Zwijnenberg's The Body Within: Art, Medicine and Visualization, 2009); Chapter 1 (The Neurobiology of Trauma and Memory in Children, pp. 11-49) in Mark L. Howe, Gail S. Goodman, and Dante Cicchetti's (2008) Stress, Trauma, and Children's Memory Development; and Chapter 4 (The Whiplash Syndrome II: A Model of the Brain in Trauma, pp, 37-60 in Robert C. Scaer's (2007) The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation, and Disease.


Module Ten: 3/19


Reading: Excerpt from Part III ('Pain') in Constance Classen's (2005) The Book of Touch (pp. 109-119); Excerpt from Melanie Thersen's (2010) The Pain Chronicles (pp. 3-13; 77-80; 193-205; and 279-294); Jean Jackson's (2005) 'Stigma, Liminality, and Chronic Pain: Mind-Body Borderlands', American Ethnologist 32(3): 332-353; and Susanna Trnka's (2007) 'Languages of Labor: Negotiating the 'Real' and the Relational in Indo-Fijian Women's Expressions of Physical Pain', Medical Anthropology Quarterly 21(4): 388-408.



PART FOUR: Belief, Consciousness, and Healing Cross-Culturally          


Module Eleven: 3/26 Healing Bodies and Souls


            Reading: Bodies and Emotion (Desjarlais) Part II (pp. 159-253).


Module Twelve: 4/2 Healing Souls and Bodies in the US


            Reading: The Sacred Self (Csordas): Chapters 1-5 (pp. 1-140).




Module Thirteen: 4/9 The Borders of Self, Consciousness, and Experience


Reading:  The Sacred Self (Csordas): Chapters 6-10 (pp. 141-282).


Module Fourteen 4/16 Synthesis, Discussion of Papers


            Reading: TBA


FINAL EXAM: Turn in hard copies of papers to my mailbox by TUESDAY, 7 pm of exam week AND send papers as email attachment (Word file) with subject heading 'PAPER'. Electronic versions are for departmental curriculum assessment. No papers will be graded without hard copies.