Traditional Religions

Open Educational Resources

This page and the rsources linked from it are Open Educational Resources (OER)

Additional materials will be available during the course. Traditional Religions studies in detail those religions, usually of tribal peoples, which also carry the label "animistic."

I have a very personal interest in this subject since we spent one term of service in Haiti, where the predominant religion is an animistic one called voodoo (also spelled "voudun"). [ e-book on Haiti ]

Case studies to be used in class:

Are you doing some of your research on the Internet? Be sure you cite those internet sources properly in your written work.

Course syllabus

Miss 5103/Soc 5103


  1. Regular attendance. An important component of this course is what goes on in the classroom: lectures, presentations, interaction and discussions. Therefore, unexcused absences will reduce the final course grade.
  2. All of the textbooks will have to be read in their entirety. At exam times you will be asked if you have completed the readings assigned in preparation for that particular exam.
  3. Three written papers on assigned topics related to the course content. These should be typed, double-spaced with a bibliography of sources consulted. Quotes and other material needing documentation do not require full foot- or endnotes. Rather, this can be done in the style of sociological and anthropological theses, e.g.: (Kiev: 134). In this case Kiev is the name of the author being cited and 134 is the page on which the citation is found.
  4. Written video reflections. Whenever videos are shown in class, you must write a minimum one-page analysis/reflection paper on it to be turned in by the next class period.
  5. Read Paul Hiebert's article, "The Flaw of the Excluded Middle." It can be found in the 1982 bound copy of Missiology or in the third edition of Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Turn in a one-page reaction/summary.

Maya symbol


The letter grade for the course will generally be assigned according to the standard breakdown (A=90% or above, B=80% of above, etc.). The following percentages will be used to compute the course grade:

Assignments which come in late will be subject to a reduction in grade.

Course calendar

Jan. 24
Jan. 29
Jan. 31
Feb. 5
Feb. 7
Feb. 12
Feb. 14
Feb. 19
Feb. 21
Feb. 26
Feb. 28
March 5
March 7
March 12
March 14
March 26
March 28
April 2
April 4
April 9
April 11
April 16
April l8
April 23
April 25
April 30
May 2
May 7
May 9
May 15
Worldview, "Flaw of the Excluded Middle"
Mysterium tremendum/ des Ganz Andre/ Majestas
Religious myths, rituals, and ceremonies
Animism and animatism
Sorcery, diviners and magicians
Magic, amulets and charms
Review day
Totemism and the manitou
Individualistic cults
Shamanistic cults
Communal cults
Ecclesiastical cults
EXAM over pages 85-164 of Howells & Report #17
Spirit possession and glossolalia
Idols and images
Prophetic and nativistic movements
Cargo cults
Review day
Folk churches
Neopaganism in America (In "gods" we trust)
Death, ghosts and ancestor worship
Magical treatment of illness
Folk psychiatry
Review and catchup
(Wednesday) Final exam 8-9:50


This bibliography is by no means exhaustive. It is simply a sampling of what is available in the library.


Adeney, Miriam. "What is 'Natural' About Witchcraft and Sorcery?" Missiology. l974: 377-95.
Atkinson, Jane Monnig. "The Effectiveness of Shamans in an Indonesian Ritual," American Anthropologist. June, l987, p. 342.
Booth, William. "Voodoo Science," Science. April 15, l988. p. 274.
Brown, Kenneth I. "Worshiping with the Church of the Lord (Aladura)," Practical Anthropology.l966: 59-84.
_______. "Forms of Baptism in the African Independent Churches of Tropical Africa," Practical Anthropology. l972: l69-l92.
Carpenter, Mark. "The Bible vs 'Brazilian Reality'," Christianity Today. December 13, l985, p. 50.
Devillers, Carole. "Haiti's Voodoo Pilgrimages of Spirits and Saints," National Geographic. March,l985, p. 395.
Gilliland, Dean. "Phenomenology as Mission Method," Missiology. l979, 4:451-459.
Hiebert, Paul G. "The Flaw of the Excluded Middle," Missiology. l982, l:35.
Holmes, Lowell D. "Cults, Cargo and Christianity: Samoan Responses to Western Religion,"Missiology. l980, 4:471-487.
Kapenzi, G.Z. "Shona and Navaho: A Comparative Study of Beliefs and Practices," Missiology.l974, 4:489-95.
Katz, Susan. "A Pantheon of Spirits: Haiti's Voodoo Mixes Faith and Magic," Newsweek. February24, l986, p. 64.
Levine, Art. "Mystics on Main Street: While Skeptics Cast Doubts, Psychics Count Dollars," U.S.News and World Report. February 9, l987, p. 67.
Loewen, Jacob A. "Mythology and Missions," Practical Anthropology. l969: l47-l92.
McGregor, Donald E. "New Guinea Myths and Scriptural Similarities," Missiology. l974, l:35.
O'Brien, Patricia. "Prehistoric Evidence for Pawnee Cosmology," American Anthropologist. Vol.88o, 939-946.
Osborne, Kenneth B. "A Christian Graveyard Cult in the New Guinea Highlands," Practical Anthropology. l970: l0-15.
Partain, Jack. "Christians and Their Ancestors: A Dilemma of African Theology," Christian Century.November 26, l986, p. l066.
Roberts, John M., Saburo Morita and L. Keith Brown. "Personal Categories for Japanese Sacred Places and Gods," American Anthropologist. Vol. 88. Dec., l986, pages 807-824.
Saliba, John A. "Myth and Religious Man in Contemporary Anthropology." Missiology. l973, 3:281.
Sass, Louis. "Voodoo Therapy: Do you believe in magic?" Vogue. Sept., l986, p. 296.
Shaw, Daniel. "Every Person a Shaman," Missiology. l98l, 3:359-366.
Singleton, Michael. "Signs and Spiritual Direction: the Pastoral Counseling of the Possessed,"Missiology. l977, 2:l85-l94.
Taber, Floyd W. "How Real are Dreams," Practical Anthropology. l972: l08-l09.
Thornton, John K. "On the trail of voodoo: African Christianity in Africa and the Americas," The Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History, v. 44, Jan., l988, p. 261.
Tippett, Alan R. "The Evangelization of Animists," in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement,ed. by Ralph Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. pages 629-640.
Toliver, Ralph. "Syncretism: A Specter Among Philippine Protestants," Practical Anthropology.l970: 210-219.
Turner, Harold W. "Old and New Religions Among North American Indians," Missiology. l973,2:47.
Turner, Charles V. "The Sinasina Stone Bowl Cult," Practical Anthropology. l970: 28-48.
Van Rheenen, Gailyn. "Cultural Conceptions of Power in Biblical Perspective" Missiology, January1993
Welton, Michael. "Themes in African Traditional Belief and Ritual," Practical Anthropology. l97l:l-l8.
Wright, Michael. "Some Observations on Thai Animism," Practical Anthropology. l968: l-7.
Yancey, Philip. "Tree Trunks and Other Trivial Pursuits," Christianity Today, May 17, l985, p. 8.

In microform:

"Christian response to phenomenon of witchcraft in Ghana," an MA thesis by Vincent Boi-Nai.
"Elements of a strategy for the evangelization of Rastafarians with special reference to Jamaica," an MA thesis by Laurie Lind


Beals, Ralph L. and Harry Hoijer. An Introduction to Anthropology. pages 434-470.
Bessy, Maurice. A Pictorial History of Magic and the Supernatural.
Conn, Harvie. Eternal Word and Changing Worlds.
De Waal Malefijt, Annemarie. Religion and Culture.
Durkheim, Emile. Elementary Forms of Religious Life.
Diederich, Bernard and Al Burt. Papa Doc and the Tonton Macoutes. pages 345-357.
Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy.
Frazer, James George. The New Golden Bough. (Found in "reference" section)
Gehman, Richard J. African Traditional Religion in Biblical Perspective.
Haviland, William A. Anthropology. pages 535-560.
Hiebert, Paul G. Cultural Anthropology. pages 371-396.
Keesing, Roger M. Cultural Anthropology. pages 385-405.
Kottak, Conrad Phillip. Cultural Anthropology. pages 260-284.
Leach, Maria, ed. Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, l972. (Located in "Reference" section)
Leslie, Charles, ed. Anthropology of Folk Religion.
Lessa, W. A. and E.Z. Vogt, editors, Reader in Comparative Religions.
Levy-Bruhl, Lucien. Primitives and the Supernatural.
Lowie, Robert. Primitive Religion.
Melton, J. Gordon. Magic, Witchcraft and Paganism in America. ("Reference" section)
Nevius, John L. Demon Possession.
Nida, Eugene A. and William A. Smalley. Introducing Animism.
Taylor, Robert B. Cultural Ways. pages 229-246.

Check also the 20-volume series Peoples of the Earth located in the "reference" section.

How do I go about learning their language?

NextThe gospel can never become contextualized until it is expressed in a people's native (or heart) language. [ more ]
Most courses at SNU contain a writing component.
I expect students to produce written work that is focused, well developed, organized and relatively free of grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors.
Papers falling short of this standard will not be graded. That work will be returned to the students for further revision and resubmission.
See my writing checklist.

Tempted to cheat on some schoolwork? Before you do, read Southern Nazarene University's academic integrity policy

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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