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ANT500: Cultural Anthropology

Anthropologists study humans as both biological and cultural creatures. This scholarly orientation raises many fascinating questions. To what degree does culture shape our actions and ideas?

Anthropologists study humans as both biological and cultural creatures. This scholarly orientation raises many fascinating questions. To what degree does culture shape our actions and ideas? Are we primarily products of biological nature or cultural nurture? Can cultural norms make rational people act irrationally? Are there universal human rights or do cultures dictate what we think is ethical? These debates are critical for understanding human interaction and have significant application in fields ranging from law to medicine. Although discussions of these topics many times turn toward scientific explanations, this course provides students an opportunity to explore other scholarly orientations; namely, the nurture side of the debate. Using various anthropological approaches, students will explore patterns of behavior, both consciously articulated and unconsciously practiced, that enriches and profoundly shapes our lives. Among the topics considered are: "the mind" and epistemology; discipline, law, and rules; human bodies and communication; social taboos; ritual patterns of meaning; notions of cleanliness and defilement; festivals; and mythology. These elements of cultural life will be explored in social settings spanning the globe, but also within our own community at Phillips Exeter Academy. To gain a greater appreciation of these topics, students will be exposed to classic readings in anthropology, developing a sense of the field as it emerged out of the late 19th-century. Much of the course attempts to contextualize 20th-century anthropological methods against the foil of postmodern critiques.