About the discipline
Anthropology and archaeology are key disciplines in understanding the role religion has played in past societies and in present society.
Religion is often a driving or very influential force in how societies are formed and how they function. Anthropologists study humans through biology, behavior, language and culture from comparative, evolutionary and historical perspectives. In understanding religion, anthropologists look at symbols, beliefs, patterns of behavior, rituals and moral codes of humans. Earlier Western anthropologists are now thought to have looked at non-Western or non-monotheistic religions through a “primitivist” lens. But today’s anthropologists often follow the example of American anthropologist Franz Boaz, who believed humans live in a pluralistic universe with many realities, in which there are no “better” societies, only different ones. This approach fits well with the vastly globalizing nature of human society and the growing religious diversity of people in America and around the world.
Archaeologists study the material remains of past societies, which can serve as a source of information about religious traditions, ritual practices, symbolic systems and the sacred in pre-historic and historic contexts. Archaeology has contributed to important discoveries into how religious life was established and preserved in the archaeological record.
Religion is a popular field for anthropological and archaeological research. There is keen interest, for example, in biblical archaeology among those hoping to find or disprove support for a historical basis for biblical accounts. Questions one could ask when engaged in this topic of research may arise from the sources of funding, and the goals and politics of sponsors and whether there is a religious bias. Political and religious situations in some nations also impact access to important sites for research. Researchers in these fields should prepare for adulation from religious groups when support for that religion’s historical basis is found, and criticism or dismissal from similar groups if contradictory evidence is found. Findings bring up the issue of whether faiths are in any way reliant on the integration of texts and traditions with artifacts in preserving practice of the faith as well as the potential power of archaeological findings to challenge existing beliefs. There is also interest among religious communities in understanding how their traditions were practiced in earlier times, which gives them context for modern-day interpretation and worship. Researchers could also explore how their own beliefs inspire or inform their work.
- “A glimpse at religion in Turkey 2,800 years ago.” Dallas Morning News, Nov. 19, 2008.
- “An Inscribed Silver Amulet from Samaria” by C. Müller-Kessler, T.C. Mitchell and M.I. Hockey. Palestine Exploration Quarterly. 139, no. 1 (2007): 5-19.
- “At Yesenia’s House…” by Sarah Stohlman. Qualitative Sociology. 30, no. 1 (2007): 61-80.
- “‘Brother of Jesus’ proved ancient and authentic” by Biblical Archaeology Society, June 13, 2012.
- “Did Bad Karma Cause Cyclone?; Burma’s People Say Rulers’ Crackdown On Monks to Blame” by Daniel Burke. Religion News Service, May 27, 2008.
- “India’s Archeological Agency Creates Religious Stir In Supreme Court Affidavit” by Howard Friedman. Religion Clause, Sept.15, 2007.
- “In the Eye of Jerusalem’s Archaeological Storm” by Israel Finkelstein. The Jewish Daily Forward, May 6, 2011.
- “Making Mountains Out of Molehills in the Bronze Age Aegean: Visibility, Ritual Kits, and the Idea of a Peak Sanctuary” by Briault, Camilla. World Archaeology. 39, no. 1 (2007): 122-41.
- “Pentecostals find fertile ground in Brazil” by Sara Miller Llana. Christian Science Monitor, Dec.18, 2007.
- “Performing the Divine: Neo-Pagan Pilgrimages and Embodiment at Sacred Sites” by Kathryn Rountree. Body and Society. 12, no. 4 (2006): 95-115.
- “Religion and Morality: An Anthropological Comment” by Maurice Bloch. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 29, no. 5 (2006): 465-6.
- “Religious Revelation, Secrecy and the Limits of Visual Representation” by Birgit Meyer. Anthropological Theory. 6, no. 4 (2006): 431-53.
- “Syrian Antiquities Can’t Escape Violence” by Biblical Archaeology Society, April 11, 2012.
- “The Material Roots of Rastafarian Marijuana Symbolism” by Akeia A. Benard. History & Anthropology. 18, no. 1 (2007): 89-99.
- “The Sepphoris Synagogue: Deciphering an Ancient Message Through Its Archaeological and Socio-Historical Contexts” by Adam L. Porter. American Journal of Archaeology. 111, no. 1 (2007): 179.
- “Tomb of Herod the Great may have been found” by Ed O’Loughlin. Sydney Morning Herald, May 9, 2007.
- “Why do we believe in God?” by Ruth Gledhill. The Times (London), Feb. 19, 2008.
- An Archaeology of the Cosmos: Rethinking Agency and Religion in Ancient America. Timothy R. Pauketat. Routledge, 2012.
- A New Anthropology of Islam. John Richard Bowen. Cambridge University Press, 2012.
- Anthropology and Religion: What We Know, Think, and Question. Robert L. Winzeler. AltaMira Press, 2007.
- Belief in the Past: Theoretical Approaches to the Archaeology of Religion. Left Coast Press, 2008.
- Cave Paintings and the Human Spirit: The Origin of Creativity and Belief. David S. Whitley. Prometheus Books, 2009.
- Introducing Anthropology of Religion: Culture to the Ultimate. Jack Eller. Routledge, 2007.
- Old Myths, New Approaches: Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia. Alexandra Haendel. Monash University Press, 2012.
- Religion, Archaeology, and the Material World. Timothy Clack. Ed. Lars Fogelin. Southern Illinois Center for Archaeological Investigations, 2009.
- Roman Domestic Art and Early House Churches. David L. Balch. Mohr Siebeck, 2008.
- The Archaeology of Ritual. Evangelos Kyriakidis. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, 2007.
- The Archaeology of the Holy Land: From the Destruction of Solomon’s Temple to the Muslim Conquest. Jodi Magness. Cambridge University Press, 2012.
- The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology. Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler. Georgetown University Press, 2008.
- Archaeology, ritual, religion. Timothy Insoll. Routledge, 2004.
- “Can there be an archaeology of religion? Two case studies in Roman Britannia” by Ashley Maloney. Texas Tech University doctoral thesis. Retrieved from Texas Tech Libraries. Published May, 2012.
- The Anthropology of Religion: An Introduction. Fiona Bowie. Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.
Codes of ethics
- American Anthropological Association – Code of Ethics
- Archeological Institute of America – Code of Ethics
- Society for American Archaeology – Principles of Archaeological Ethics
- Register of Professional Archaeologists – Code of Conduct and Standards of Research Performance
- Cultural Studies Association – Constitution
- Culture and Religion
- Fieldwork in Religion
- History of Religions
- International Review for the History of Religions
- Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
- Journal of Near Eastern Studies
- Journal of Ritual Studies
- Material Religion
- Material History of American Religion Project
- Anthropology and Religion links, University of Alabama
- Anthropology of Religion: An Introduction to Folk Religion and Magic, Palomar College
- Archaeology & Religious Art, Virtual Religion Index
- Artifax newsletter digest, Institute for Biblical Archaeology of New Brighton, Minnesota, reviews of newspaper, magazine and wire service articles dealing with Biblical archaeology and religious news
- At the Edge, explores new interpretations of past and place in archaeology mythology and folklore
- Biblical Archaeology links
- Biblical archaeology: Searching for the historical Jesus, ReligionLink
- Science, Religion, and Anthropology, article by James Lett excerpted from a chapter in Anthropology of Religion: A Handbook
Professional associations and faith groups
- American Academy of Religion
- American Anthropological Association
- American Scientific Affiliation: A Fellowship of Christians in Science
- Association of Muslim Social Scientists of North America
- Canadian Science and Christian Affiliation
- Fellowship of Scientists
- International Muslim Association of Scientists & Engineers
- Benard, Akeia A. “The Material Roots of Rastafarian Marijuana Symbolism.” History & Anthropology. 18, no. 1 (2007): 89-99.
- Bloch, Maurice. “Religion and Morality: An Anthropological Comment.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 29, no. 5 (2006): 465-6.
- Briault, Camilla. “Making Mountains Out of Molehills in the Bronze Age Aegean: Visibility, Ritual Kits, and the Idea of a Peak Sanctuary.” World Archaeology. 39, no. 1 (2007): 122-41.
- Carpenter, Karen A. “Limiting Principles and Empowering Practices in American Indian Religious Freedoms.” Connecticut Law Review 45.2 (2012): forthcoming.
- Meyer, Birgit. “Religious Revelation, Secrecy and the Limits of Visual Representation.” Anthropological Theory. 6, no. 4 (2006): 431-53.
- Müller-Kessler, C., T.C. Mitchell and M.I. Hockey. “An Inscribed Silver Amulet from Samaria.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly. 139, no. 1 (2007): 5-19.
- Porter, Adam L. “The Sepphoris Synagogue: Deciphering an Ancient Message Through Its Archaeological and Socio-Historical Contexts.” American Journal of Archaeology. 111, no. 1 (2007): 179.
- Rountree, Kathryn. “Performing the Divine: Neo-Pagan Pilgrimages and Embodiment at Sacred Sites.” Body and Society. 12, no. 4 (2006): 95-115.
- Stohlman, Sarah. “At Yesenia’s House…” Qualitative Sociology. 30, no. 1 (2007): 61-80.