Homo sum, nihil a me alienum puto: the ancient ‘logo’ of  human solidarity, lifted from Terence’s play Heauton timorumenos (The Self-Tormenter, I, 1, 25) is a good description for this module that provides an introduction to the anthropological discourse, one which intends to reunite several modern and recent domains of knowledge (human and natural history, (practical) philosophy, natural, behavioural and social sciences). How main features of all these are combined to yield cultural systems (religious, common sense, ideological, artistic, gender, globally economic or political) is shown by Clifford Geertz’s books The Interpretation of  Culture and Local Knowledge. (2 minutes from this video). Curiosity is what orients cultural anthropology (CA) heuristically towards discovering the new by aligning, comparing and criticizing old notions of the body, mind and memory, of myth, ritual or mimesis from more (and most) recent  perspectives on social man based on psychoanalysis, cybernetics, neuroscience, cultural memory or actor-network theory . Reading of books/chapters and individual essays is combined during the CA contact hours with relevant online presentations of cultural profiles, theories, scientific experiments, social events, and ritual ceremonies. Together, we’ll end up developing a flexible mind via comparative intellectual exercises covering large geographical and cultural areas.

Course instructor: Dr Ioana Zirra


Week 1: CA Survey (1) Symbols, culture patterns and Interpretive Anthropology

Readings: Geertz, Clifford, “The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man” in Geertz (1973) The Interpretation of Cultures, New York: Basic Books, 37- 8 and “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture”,3-29; Candea, Matei, “Severed Roots”: ‘The evolution (or development) of society’ 

Week 2: CA Survey (2) Paradigms

Readings: Candea, Matei (2018) Schools and Styles of Anthropological Theory, London and New York: Routledge: from Chapt. 1 (“Severed roots”), ‘The evolution (or development) of society’,‘Fieldwork and Malinowskian functionalism’; ‘From function to structure: the fission of a paradigm’ 20-24; 35-39.

Week3: The culture/cultures distinction, or Levy Strauss versus Clifford Geertz

Readings: ‘Concepts of Culture’ (in Geertz 1973 Chapt. 9, p 249-55); Stasch, Rupert “Structuralism”  (-Levy Strauss’s  ’phonological’ theory of totemism- Generalizing structuralism to wider ethnographic sub jects’, in Candea 2018,  64-71.

Week 4: Religion/ Myth/Ritual (1)

Readings: “Ethos, World View, and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols”, in Geertz 1973, 127-140; Irvine, Richard- “Religion Explained?”, in Candea 2018, 138-141.

Week 5: Religion/ Myth/Ritual (2):The Comparison of Western and distant societies, in yesterday’s and today’s perspectives

Readings: “Ritual and Social Change: A Javanese Example”, in Geertz 1973,142-169; Turner, Victor, ‘Acting in Everyday Life and Everyday Life in Acting’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play 206-217

Week 6: Ideology as a special sort of symbol system

Readings: Geertz 1973, “Ideology as a Cultural System”, 193-220.

Week 7: The Marxist and Neo-Marxist Approaches to Ideology

Readings: Humphrey, Caroline, “Marxism and Neomarxism”, in Candea 2018,  79-89.

Week 8: Common sense as a cultural system

Readings: Geertz, Clifford (1983) Local Knowledge¸”Common Sense as a Cultural System” ,73-93.

Week 9: Western and Non-Western Variables in the Definition of the Person, of Conduct and of Social Roles

Readings: “Person, Time and Conduct in Bali”, in Geertz 1973, 360-412; McDonald, Maryon “From the body to ‘embodiment’ with help from phenomenology”, in Candea (2018)

Week 10: Cognitive anthropology themes

Readings: Call, Josep and Michael Tomasello,”Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? 30 years later”. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 12 (5): 187-192; Irvine, Richard D.G, “Mindreading”, in Candea 2018, 141-144.

Week 11: The anthropology of art

Readings: “Art as a Cultural System”, in Geertz, Clifford 1983, 94-120.

Week 12: ’Toward an anthropology of modern thought’: the critique of modern and postmodern urban fetishes

Readings: “Lynteris, Christos “The Frankfurt School”: ‘Dialectical Image’; ‘Mimesis’, in Candea 2018, 162-169.

Week 13: Political anthropology

Readings: Geertz 1983, “Centers, Kings, and Charisma: Reflections on the Symbolics of Power”,121-146; Frigioiu, Nicolae, “Ritualuri politice”, in Antropologie politică, Bucuresti, 2009, 68-76.

Week 14: Round-up


  • A minimum of 50% attendance
  • Participation in class discussions & assignments counting for 30% of the final mark
  • An end-of-term written essay or written test, counting for 70% of the final mark