Department of Anthropology

J. Brent Crosson


Assistant ProfessorPh.D., UC Santa Cruz

Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies
J. Brent Crosson

Contact

Interests


Anthropology of religion and secularity, anthropology of science, Caribbean and Latin American studies, African diasporas, South Asian diasporas, Atlantic modernities, anthropology of/and race, anthropology of energy, colonial regulation of religion

Biography


Brent Crosson is an anthropologist of religion and secularism who works in the Caribbean. His research has focused on contestations over the limits of legal power, science, and religion in the Americas. Prior to joining the faculty at UT Austin, he was an ACLS/Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellow at UC Santa Cruz and a Ruth Landes Memorial postdoctoral fellow in cultural anthropology at NYU. His research on Caribbean practices of healing and legal intervention--known as obeah, spiritual work, or science--has been published in The Journal of Africana Religions and Cultural Anthropology's Fieldnotes. His work on race relations and solidarities has appeared in the Duke University Press journal Small Axe. His current research compares the ethics of spiritual healers' and petroleum geologists' relations to subterranean energy in Trinidad.

Courses


AFR 372G • Science/Magic/Religion

29805 • Spring 2018
Meets TTH 3:30PM-5:00PM CLA 0.112

Please check back for updates.

ANT 324L • Anthropology Of Religion

30760 • Spring 2018
Meets TTH 5:00PM-6:30PM CLA 0.122
(also listed as LAS 324L, R S 373)

Course Number: R S 373

Course Title: Anthropology of Religion

Semester / Year: Spring 2018

Cross-Listings: ANT, AFR, LAS

Description:

The anthropology of religion has been central to the disciplines of both cultural anthropology and religious studies. This course traces a genealogy of the anthropology of religion from the nineteenth century to the present. We will focus on some foundational theories and debates, before focusing on contemporary case studies. These case studies will include works on Islam in Europe, nationalism, Christianity in Indonesia, Afro-Caribbean religions, and third wave Pentecostals in the U.S.

Texts / Readings:

Sean McCloud. American Possessions: Fighting Demons in the Contemporary U.S. Mayanthi Fernando. The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism. Elizabeth Perez. Religion in the Kitchen: Cooking, Talking, and Making the Black Atlantic. Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities. Evans-Pritchard. Witchcraft Among the Azande. Carla Freeman. Entrepreneurial Selves (excerpts)

Grading Policy:

Reading Quizzes 30% Reading Journals 30% Participation Exercises 30% Final 10%

ANT 391 • Violence/Sovereignty/Relig

31628 • Fall 2017
Meets W 2:00PM-5:00PM BUR 554
(also listed as AFR 385, LAS 391, R S 383C)

Foucault had insisted that we cut off the head of the sovereign in political theory, but sovereignty has returned as a pressing concern for scholars in recent years.  Unlike Foucualdian biopolitics, which emphasizes the economization of power and the care of the self, sovereignty remains overtly wed to violence and to questions of intolerance in contemporary worlds.  This class examines the relationships between political theologies, sovereignty, and violence, as scholars attempt to elucidate or undo notions of sovereignty in modern nation-states.  We will focus on questions of indigenous ritual sovereignties, religious violence, and nonsovereign political theologies.  While the focus is on the modern Americas, the questions addressed extend across various historical eras and geographical regions.     

R S 375S • Religions Of No Religion

43710 • Fall 2017
Meets TTH 3:30PM-5:00PM PAR 210

Recently, scholars of religion have turned their attention to religious practices that have fallen outside the bounds of religion proper.  On the one hand, scholars have examined the increasing popularity of "spiritual but not religious" movements in contemporary worlds. On the other hand, scholars have come to terms with the ways that various religious practices were designated as something other than religion in colonial and imperial contexts of power.  Whether superstition, magic, or witchcraft, these forms of "not-religion" were left outside of the juridical protections of "religious freedom" or were rendered outright illegal. This course examines these religious practices that are not religion, throwing critical light on the category of religion by looking at its contested borders.  This is a small, discussion-oriented capstone seminar.

ANT 324L • Science/Magic/Religion

31275 • Spring 2017
Meets MW 2:30PM-4:00PM WEL 2.312
(also listed as AFR 372G, AMS 327, R S 373)

Description: 

In this course, we will interrogate the concepts of magic, science, and religion as culturally and historically constructed categories.  We will critically examine how the construction of science and religion, as well as the opposition of empirical knowledge and belief, were central to both the Enlightenment and the formation of the social and natural sciences.  Drawing on recent critiques of these foundational distinctions, we will question common-sense understandings of these categories and their relations, exploring the following questions:

  • How did the experimental sciences emerge out practices of “natural magic” or evidence law?
  • How do our notions of religion and science reflect certain assumptions?  What are other ways of categorizing practices we might deem as religion or science?
  • How have the divisions between science, magic and religion, or between rationality and superstition, undergirded projects of modernity, colonization, and development?

 

Texts:

  • Danny Burton and David Grandy.  Magic, Mystery, and Science.
  • George Saliba.  Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance.
  • Helen Verran.  Science and an African Logic.
  • Karol Weaver.  Medical Revolutionaries:  The Enslaved Healers of Eighteenth Century Saint Domingue.
  • Harry West.  Ethnographic Sorcery.

 

Grading:

  • Eight Reading Quizzes (35%)
  • Topic, Research Question, and Thesis Statement (5%)
  • Revised Thesis Statement + Draft of Introduction + Outline of Paper (10 %)
  • Final Paper (30%)
  • Participation in Class Discussions (10%)
  • Oral Presentation (10%)

ANT 324L • Religions Of The Caribbean

30370 • Spring 2016
Meets TTH 12:30PM-2:00PM SZB 296
(also listed as AFR 372G, LAS 324L, R S 366)

In this course we will discuss the politics of religious practices in the Greater Caribbean, from Vodou and Rastafari to popular Hinduism. As a region, the Greater Caribbean encompasses the islands of the insular Caribbean, the Caribbean coasts of Central America and South America, Brazil, and the centers of Caribbean trans-migration in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (this course will focus on Caribbean diasporas in New York City, for example). While the Caribbean is usually seen as African diasporic and Christian, West and Central African religions, Hinduism, Islam, spiritism, European esotericism, and indigenous religions all maintain long-standing and vibrant presences. We immerse ourselves in the complex nexus of Caribbean religions through explorations of practices including Cuban-Kongo religion, Haitian vodou, U.S. fantasies of voodoo and U.S. interventions in the Caribbean, Hindu popular religions in Trinidad and Guyana, Islam in the Caribbean, Black Carib religion in New York and Honduras, and Rastafarianism in Jamaica.

 

Texts

1. Barry Chevannes. Rastafari: Roots and Ideology2. William Earle and Srinivas Aravamudan. Obi; or the History of Three-Fingered Jack3. Karen McCarthy Brown. Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn4. Paul Christopher Johnson. Diaspora Conversions: Black Carib Religion and theRecovery of Africa5. Aisha Khan, ed. Islam and the Americas6. Todd Ramón Ochoa. Society of the Dead: Quita Manaquita and Palo Praise in Cuba

 

Grading

Class Attendance and Participation (15%)

Two Midterms  (25% each)

Final Exam (35%)

ANT 391 • Non-Human Agency

30570 • Spring 2016
Meets TH 3:30PM-6:30PM BUR 128
(also listed as R S 383C)

According to Webb Keane, colonial Christian missionaries were preoccupied with the agency of non-human entities.  While they saw the agency of spirits, animals or objects as the improper or false beliefs of non-Christian others, the very practices of the missionaries’ own modern European culture were haunted by the language of fetishism and animism.  While these terms were invented by Western scholars to describe the beliefs of colonial others, they were also used to characterize capitalism and bourgeois subjectivity by some of the key theorists of modern Europe.While examining how the categories of animism and fetishism were deferrals of peculiarly Western social tensions onto colonial others, we will also examine “animism” and the agency of objects on their own terms.  What are the implications of assuming that material objects or non-human animals are subjects with the ability to intervene in social worlds?  We will focus on Siberian shamanism and hunting, Marxist and Freudian conceptions of the fetish, Afro-Cuban ngangas and the category of animism in Indonesia to answer these questions.

Texts

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro.  The Inconstancy of the Indian Soul:  The Encounter of Catholics and Cannibals in 16-century Brazil (Chicago:  Prickly Paradigm Press, 2011)

Todd Ramón Ochoa.  Society of the Dead:  Quita Manaquita and Palo Praise in Cuba (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2010)

Rane Willersle.  Soul Hunters:  Hunting, Animism, and Personhood Among the Siberian Yukaghirs (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2007)

Webb Keane.  Christian Moderns:  Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2007)

Bruno Latour.  On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods.  (Durham, NC:  Duke University  Press, 2010)

 

Grading

Weekly Reading Responses (30%)Final Paper (70 %)

ANT 324L • Science, Magic, & Religion

30537 • Fall 2015
Meets TTH 2:00PM-3:30PM SAC 4.118
(also listed as R S 373)

In this course, we will interrogate the concepts of magic, science, and religion as culturally and historically constructed categories.  We will critically examine how the construction of science and religion, as well as the opposition of empirical knowledge and belief, were central to both the Enlightenment and the formation of the social and natural sciences.  Drawing on recent critiques of these foundational distinctions, we will question common-sense understandings of these categories and their relations, exploring the following questions:

  •  How did the experimental sciences emerge out practices of “natural magic” or evidence law?
  • How do our notions of religion and science reflect certain assumptions?  What are other ways of categorizing practices we might deem as religion or science?
  • How have the divisions between science, magic and religion, or between rationality and superstition, undergirded projects of modernity, colonization, and development?

 

Texts

  • Danny Burton and David Grandy.  Magic, Mystery, and Science.
  • George Saliba.  Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance.
  • Helen Verran.  Science and an African Logic.
  • Karol Weaver.  Medical Revolutionaries:  The Enslaved Healers of Eighteenth Century Saint Domingue.
  • Harry West.  Ethnographic Sorcery.

 

Grading

  • Eight Reading Quizzes (35%)
  • Topic, Research Question, and Thesis Statement (5%)
  • Revised Thesis Statement + Draft of Introduction + Outline of Paper (10 %)
  • Final Paper (30%)
  • Participation in Class Discussions (10%)
  • Oral Presentation (10%)

Curriculum Vitae


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