13753 - History of Religions (1)

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2019/2020

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, students will be able to understand the religious phenomena within the light of historical comparative method and to be able to identify their characteristics and typologies. In particular, students will obtain knowledge of the antiquity and late antiquity contexts where various religions co-existed. Students will be able to address problems related to religious history according to the most updated methodologies in order to highlight connections, developments, transformations and will be able to critically analyze historical documents and historical authors, relating them to the different historical and cultural contexts.

Course contents

Classes begin: 23 September 2019 (I + II period 12/11)

I period: Mon, Tue, Thur, h 13-15 aula Grande SGM (students 6 cfu and 12 cfu)

II period: Mon, Thur, h 13-15 aula Fumagalli SGM, Tue Aula Seminari 2 SGM (only students 6 cfu)


Studying magic-religious phenomena: fundamental theories

In this course, students will acquire the fundamental notions to interpret the complexity of religious systems, recognize their mutual relations and focus on their structural patterns. They will possess knowledge that is suitable to favor inter-religious understanding and communication.

This course will address a number of classic topics in religion anthropology and focus on some of the conceptual issues in the study of the sacred and of magic and religion practices, including lay ones.

During the course the following subjects will be addressed:

  • Rites, myths and sacrificial apparatus
  • Beliefs and practices
  • Terminology of the history of religions (holy, religion, etc.)
  • Classification of religions
  • Religious Studies: origin, authors and main theories
  • Religion as a product of man and historical document
  • Components and structure of the religious system
  • Corporality in religious systems;
  • Religious scriptures and text construction
  • Religious identity and plurality

Attending students 12 cfu shall carry out a (optional) small fieldwork-based study on a micro religious fact/event to decide during class. Studentsare required to write two short reports with an ethnographic, methodological and interpretative analysis (5-6 pages each). The reports shall be written in team by using the UNIBO e-learning platform. In particular, this fieldwork ethnographic study entails the following:

  1. Writing an ethnographic description of the event/fact (essay 1)
  2. Presenting the issues encountered and discussing them in class;
  3. Writing a text in which the methodological questions incurred are problematized (in a bullet list format) (essay 2)

Some of the issues discussed in the course will also be reconsidered by watching some documentaries, short videos and movies:

Les dieux objects, Marc Augé, Jean-Paul Colleyn, Jean-Pierre Dozon, Catherine Clippel (2010)

On fait les reliques, Francesca Sbardella (2002).

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

  • determine and analyze the distinguishing features of religious facts;
  • acquire competences to interpret the relations between religions and society;
  • develop collaboratively a functional analysis model applied to historical-anthropological research;
  • read, analyze, summarize, understand, and explain explicit and implicit information in texts about historical-religious theories;
  • provide some basic means to develop the necessary skills in collecting, processing, analyzing, and interpreting genuine empirical data concerning the magical-religious field.


Programme for attending and for non-attending students 6 cfu

  1. Filoramo G., Giorda M.C., Spineto N., Le scienze della religione, Morcelliana, Brescia 2019.

  2. Jensen Sinding Jeppe, Che cos’è la religione?, Bulzoni, 2018

Programme for attending and for non-attending students 12 cfu

  1. Filoramo G., Giorda M.C., Spineto N., Le scienze della religione, Morcelliana, Brescia 2019.

  2. Jensen Sinding Jeppe, Che cos’è la religione?, Bulzoni, 2018

  3. One of the following classic texts:

    Evans-Pritchard Edward E., 1965 [1956], La religione dei Nuer, Firenze, Sansoni

    Evans-Pritchard Edward E., 1971 [1966], Teorie sulla religione primitive, Firenze, Sansoni

    Frazer J. G., 1992 [1922], Il ramo d'oro, Roma, Newton & Compton

    Freud S., 2009 [1970], L’uomo Mosè e la religione monoteistica: tre saggi, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri

    Freud S., 2009 [1929-1930], Il disagio della civiltà, Prato, Piano B. Il testo si trova anche in Freud S., Il disagio della civiltà e altri saggi, Torino, Boringhieri

    Hubert H. - Mauss M., 2002 [1899], Saggio sulla funzione e la natura del sacrificio, Brescia, Morcelliana

    Levi-Bruhl, Lucien, 1982 [1922], La mentalità primitiva, Torino, Einaudi

    Lewis Joan M., 1972, Le religioni estatiche. Studio antropologico sulla possessione spiritica e sullo sciamanismo, Roma, Ubaldini

    Malinowski Bronislaw 1676 [1948], Magia, scienza e religione, e Baloma: gli spiriti dei morti nelle isole Trobriand, Roma, Newton Compton

    Marx Karl, Engels Friedrich 1958 [1845-46], L’ideologia tedesca, Roma, Editori Riuniti

    Mauss M., 2000, Teoria generale della magia e altri saggi, Einaudi, Torino

    Otto R., 1976 [1917], Il sacro: l’irrazionale nella idea del divino e la sua relazione al razionale, Milano, Feltrinelli

    Tambiah Stanley J., 1993 [1990], Magia, scienza, religione, Napoli, Guida

    Turner Victor W., 1972 [1969], Il processo rituale, Brescia, Morcelliana

    Tylor Edward B., 2000 [1871], Alle origini della cultura, vol. IV Animismo. L’anima e le anime. Dottrine e funzioni, Pisa-Roma, Istituti Editoriali Poligrafici Internazionali

    Van Gennep Arnold 2012 [1909], I riti di passaggio, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri


  4. Thematic works. One of the following texts:

Sbardella F., Abitare il silenzio. Un’antropologa in clausura, Viella, Roma 2017.

Sbardella F, Antropologia delle reliquie. Un caso storico, Morcelliana 2007.

The syllabus for non-attending students is not subject to any integration. Non-attending students will need to make a greater effort in preparing the exam individually.

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:

  • In-depth and detailed knowledge of the syllabus text contents
  • 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
  • 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