In the fall, I’ll be teaching my own course for the first time. In the past, my funding has been a healthy mixture of TAships (2 years) and fellowships (4 years). At Michigan, PhD Candidates who decide they would like to teach a course as part of their final year of funding are allowed to choose their own topic. Although my dissertation focuses on Mormon missionary work, I decided NOT to focus the course on Mormonism. I felt that doing so would define me too narrowly – as a Mormon historian rather than a historian of religion, colonialism, and sexuality whose first project happens to focus on Mormonism. I also wanted to take a break from Mormon Studies. I also wanted, however, to teach a course that was related in some way to my dissertation and would challenge me methodologically. I eventually decided to teach a course called Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft that uses the tools of anthropology, history, and literary theory to think critically about the relationship between religion and magic. Why are some spiritual practices lauded? And others are demonized as witchcraft? How do we decide what belongs in one category and what belongs in the other? In what ways have ideas about race, gender, and class shaped what we deem to be acceptable religion?
I’m still gathering textbooks and readings for the class, but here are some of the texts that I am considering assigning:
Clifford Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System”
Kenneth Minkema, “The Devil will Roar in Me Anon”
Sidney Harring, “Red Lilac of the Cayugas”
Cynthia Eller, “Affinities and Appropriations in Feminist Spirituality”
Linda Jenicson, “In Whose Image? Misogynist Trends in the Construction of Goddess and Woman”
Timothy McMillan, “Black Magic: Witchcraft, Race, and Resistance in Colonial New England”
William D. Pierson, “Black Arts and Black Magic: Yankee Accommodations to African Religion”
*Note: Many, if not most, of these come from Spellbound, Elizabeth Reis’ excellent edited collection on Witchcraft in the United States. My students will buying the book even though we won’t be using every essay.
Carl Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman
Starhawk, The Spiral Staircase
John Thornton, The Congolese St. Anthony
Richard Godbeer, Escaping Salem
David H. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment
Richard Godbeer, The Devil’s Dominion
Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic
Lani Wendt Young, Telesa
I am playing with different ways to organize the course. One idea I have had is to the Salem Witch Trials as an organizing theme. The course would begin with discussions of what constituted witchcraft in New England and then would use books like Seneca Possessed to understand how the reverberations of Salem for understandings of witchcraft among Native Americans, white settlers, and African Americans. Another way that I have considered organizing the course is around folk tales and myths about witchcraft. During the first few weeks of class, the students and I would read several fairy tales and would analyze them for what they tell us about how people of that time period that about magic, religion, and gender. As you can tell the course is still in the development phase and I would appreciate any insights that people have. I also wonder how others chose to focus on Mormon history or not. Did anyone else fear that teaching a course on Mormonism would define them too narrowly on the job market and would ultimately hinder rather than help their chances of getting a job?