82240 - Methodologies of Religious Studies (1) (LM)

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

This course gives students insights into the historiographical ways through which it is possible to embark on the analysis of religious phenomena. The interpretation of religious practices is characterized by a constant methodological tension between the difficulty to decode people’s beliefs in non-visible otherness and the difficulty to elaborate on the unresolved dichotomy between one’s creed and the rite. It is thus necessary to develop a specific kind of research on methodological theories.

Course contents

Classes begin: 24 September 2018 (I semester, I period)

Mon, Tue, h 13-15, aula Gualandi, San Giovanni in Monte

Thurs  h 11-13 Aula Grande SGM


Beliefs, concepts, methods

This course looks at some of the main conceptual and interpretative issues in the study of the history of religions, focusing on the methodological challenges involved in fieldwork research.

Attending students will be involved in research activities starting with the observation of real data, which will provide the basis for specific theoretical reflection. Students will be asked to carry out small projects to acquire specific research skills related to the field of magic and religion, with special attention on the concept and, at one time, methodological question of participation, which is one of the most debated subjects in this field.

More specifically, students shall carry out a (mandatory) small fieldwork-based study on a micro religious fact/event: students will have to have someone read the cards for them or participate in a family constellations session, thus being at the same time a researcher-observer and a protagonist. After this, studentsare required to write two short reports with an ethnographic, methodological and interpretative analysis (5-6 pages each). The ethnographic reports shall be written in team by using the UNIBO e-learning platform. In particular, this fieldwork ethnographic study entails the following:

  1. Writing a fieldwork ethnographic diary concerning the observation of the event/fact taken into consideration
  2. Presenting the issues encountered and discussing them in class;
  3. Writing an ethnographic description of the event/fact (essay 1)
  4. Writing a text in which the methodological questions incurred are problematized (in a bullet list format) (essay 2)
  5. Writing a short research report including the two texts prepared, reviewed and personalized by each student upon completion of the teamwork assignment. Students are required to explicitly address the links between these texts and the fieldwork ethnographic diary. This work will be assessed for the final examination. Useful material for the fieldwork assignment will be provided during the classes or posted in the online e-learning platform.

During the course the following subjects will be addressed:

  • Terminology and definitions of religious facts
  • Historical and phenomenological approach
  • Nearby otherness
  • The otherness of the divinity
  • Participation in belief?
  • Emotional and fluctuating participation
  • Corporality in fieldwork practices
  • Topography of the sacred

Some of the issues discussed in the course will also be reconsidered by watching the movie Lisbon Story by Wim Wenders (1995).

At the end of the course the student shall be able to:

  • Take advantage of the Internet as a framework enabling self-study and collaborative learning; also knowing the implications of an open, real, and participatory space to develop collaborative writing techniques and strategies online using e-learning tools.
  • Read, analyze, summarize, understand, and explain explicit and implicit information in texts on ethnographic theories, with special attention on methodological questions in religious studies.
  • Develop the necessary skills to collect, process, analyze, and interpret genuine empirical data related to the magic and religion field.
  • Be able to become aware of one’s own interpretative subjectivity during fieldwork research and consider one’s own participation.
  • Recognize and manage the ethnographic variables involved in magic and religion fieldwork research.


Programme for attending students

  1. Jonathan Z. Smith, Relating religion: essays in the study of religion, Chicago-London, The University of Chicago press, 2004 (chapters 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 12).
  2. Dupront A., «Antropologia religiosa», in Il sacro. Crociate e pellegrinaggi, pp. 433-557. Il capitolo è disponibile nella dispensa Sbardella Metodologie dello studio delle religioni 2018/2019 presso Master Copy, via Cartoleria 4 (Bo).
  3. Sbardella F. (a cura di), Antropologia dell’Europa, Pàtron, Bologna 2007.

The chapters by Smith 1) and Dupront 2) are available in the course pack Sbardella 2019/2019 Metodologie dello studio delle religioni at Master Copy, via Cartoleria 4 (Bologna).

Programme for non-attending students

  1. Jonathan Z. Smith, Relating religion: essays in the study of religion, Chicago-London, The University of Chicago press, 2004 (capitoli 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 12).
  2. Dupront A., «Antropologia religiosa», in Il sacro. Crociate e pellegrinaggi, pp. 433-557.
  3. Geertz C., «La religione come sistema culturale», in Id., Interpretazione di culture, pp. 111-159.
  4. Sbardella F. (a cura di), Antropologia dell’Europa, Pàtron, Bologna 2007 (disponibile presso Libreria Pàtron, piazza Verdi 4/D, Bologna)

The chapters by Smith 1), Geertz 2) and Dupront 3) are available in the course pack Sbardella 2017/2018 Metodologie dello studio delle religioni at Master Copy, via Cartoleria 4 (Bologna).

Teaching methods

Traditional lectures will alternate with seminars for in-depth discussion in which students are invited to actively take part with personal investigations, presentations and reports concerning the proposed issues.

Part of the programme will be completed by using e-learning tools: this activity will be based on collaborative writing applied to ethnographic research through the use of collaborative digital tools.

Assessment methods

The final examination is an interview. The students will be asked some questions concerning the texts included in the syllabus and the subjects presented in them.

For attending students, the assessment of the final interview is complemented with specific questions on the subjects discussed in class and with the research report on the fieldwork assignment.

Exam registration should be completed via the Almaesami website.

Assessment criteria:

  • Teamwork and problem solving skills
  • Quantity and quality of each student’s participation in e-learning activities
  • Active participation in class discussion: ability to present, contrast, and defend one’s ideas with data that are relevant to the proposed subjects
  • In-depth and detailed knowledge of the syllabus text contents
  • Argument and critical skills
  • Language appropriateness
  • The evaluation of the written report will consider the typical conventions of academic writing (orthography, layout, and presentation), and also the ability to ponder, analyze, and draw conclusions.

Teaching tools

Multimedia tools will be used, e.g. audio recordings and videos. For some fieldwork activities the students will work in a team and use collaborative digital resources, such as e-learning tools.

Slides and Power Point presentations will also be used in some classes.

Office hours

See the website of Francesca Sbardella