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Awesome Academics: Magic, Witchcraft and Religion
Awesome Academics: Magic, Witchcraft and Religion

November 14, 2014

Fall is the perfect time to learn about witchcraft and spirits

While houses on University Avenue may be decked out for All Hallow's Eve, Shari Jacobson's Anthropology 220 class at Susquehanna University doesn't discuss broom-riding witches and spooky Halloween stories. In true anthropologic fashion, a mix of students majoring in fields such as anthropology, creative writing, art history, biology, and psychology have been studying spirituality around the world through the Magic, Witchcraft and Religion course.

"When I decided to take this class, I did so because of the religious standpoint. It interests me how people interpret and experience their religions. Of course, I saw the word witchcraft in the title and wondered what that was about," said sophomore Nickey Sanders, who has a double major in anthropology and art history.

The latest ethnography the class read, Shamans, Spirituality, and Cultural Revitalization: Explorations in Siberia and Beyond, gave students a glimpse into the way indigenous shamans in Siberia commune with spirits to heal and guide members of the community. The class examines how people around the world prepare themselves to communicate with and harness the powers of non-natural or supernatural forces.

After completing the book, students created original presentations to illustrate the ideas and themes they absorbed from the book. The types of work differed greatly. Evan Nelson, a senior creative writing major, created a painting portraying the shaman's healing work. Sanders used an outline of a bird, which is significant in shaman symbolism, to guide her tracing of a praise poem that was juxtaposed over a newspaper article on war.

"I really want the class to be a place where students can explore," said Jacobson, associate professor and chair of Susquehanna's department of anthropology and sociology. "People take it for a lot of different reasons, but there are often students looking for some meaning themselves-perhaps to deepen their own convictions or find a set of practices and beliefs that resonates with them.. I like them to have the opportunity to personalize the class, and they've created great projects."