Beverly Stoeltje, Ph.D.


Undergraduate Courses


The ways in which people order their lives and understand themselves as individuals who belong to communities is at the heart of social and cultural anthropology. Contemporary global conditions have brought all societies closer together, creating situations that cry out for greater understanding as diasporas have increased the mobility of peoples who have migrated or been displaced from their homes,and disparities among peoples have increased due to the effects of war and economic forces.

This class focuses on the way that specific peoples in particular locations confront and resolve similar challenges: how the group is organized to maintain its identity as well as survival, how social relationships are maintained, how females and males are defined, and how societies respond to changing conditions. These include rituals such as weddings, sports, and gift giving, for example.

Special attention will be devoted to the circumstances in which historical conditions, such as imperialism and colonialism, combined with contemporary globalization, create conflicts of interest or upheavals. We will approach these conditions to explore the challenges faced by specific communities and how they respond to them. The peoples of Afghanistan are one example.

We will also examine the means by which social and cultural anthropologists go about producing ethnographic research with the goal of understanding the lives of specific people. The results of this empirical field research are ethnographic texts that tell the stories of people's lives and what is important to them. Such ethnographies provide the reading for this course. In addition to the readings on a topic, we will see a number of films and videos.

Examples will include one study of an African society (the Kabre of Togo), and one study of a Native American society (Mescalero Apache) along with others. As we read about and work through the different topics, two kinds of questions will guide our understanding: the first examines the external and internal forces that shape cultures and individuals; the second examines the processes by which anthropologists understand the cultures in which they work. [syllabus Sp08]

VOICES OF WOMEN (E314, C414,  F363)

This class approaches the study of women ethnographically and cross culturally. It emphasizes women’s experience, images of women, and major influences on those experiences and images. Women’s experience and images of women will be viewed through documents, ethnographies, and through women’s own voices (in writing, interviews, and film). Emphasis will be placed on the social and cultural contexts in which every woman lived or lives. Influences include the 16th c. and 17th c. witch hunts, the Suffrage movement in the U.S., and popular fairy tales (in print and film). We explore works on these topics from several perspectives. In addition we will examine some anthropological works on childbirth. We will also read some ethnographic studies that feature women in specific societies in Africa. We will utilize the work of the African-American scholar/writer, Zora Neale Hurston, both her autobiographical statements and some of her short fiction. We will read some poetry of Hebrew women and some of or about Scottish women. [syllabus F08]


European colonialism, the slave trade, apartheid in South Africa, African music, Roots. All of these subjects link Americans, Europeans and Africans together, and they are all portrayed through television, film, radio, video, and newspapers. At the same time, indigenous knowledge and discourse practices continue to flourish in Africa alongside modern media, and images and attitudes that romanticize or denigrate Africa continue to produced in the U.S. and Europe. This course examines these powerful tools of communication with specific forms and genres and in specific sites where they are performed. Films include the American movie portraying colonialism in Kenya (Out of Africa), and the Ghanaian movie about American slavery and African identity, Sankofa. Peter Davis’ In Darkest Hollywood portrays film in South Africa under apartheid and the influences of Hollywood in South Africa. We will also examine attempts of South African television to produce edutainment (popular sit coms) that deals with AIDS. We will view films by the leading African filmmaker, Sembene, widely shown in the U.S. and Europe, that explore issues of colonialism, gender, and belief in conjunction with modern everyday practices.

Sites to be considered include traditional courts where individuals bring their disputes and must utilize customary discourse practices and the influence of Britain and the U.S. on law and the state courts in specific locations. We will also consider the relationship of African Americans to Africa through heritage tourism and African music. Special attention will be devoted to the role of radio and television in contemporary global political affairs, and to the concert party in Ghana, a performance that evolved out of a British popular entertainment and to the contemporary expressions of politics in this theatrical form. [syllabus F06]

Graduate Courses

LAW AND CULTURE: The Anthropology of Law (E675, F755)

Focusing on the relationship between law and society cross-culturally this course examines systems developed by societies, small and large, for resolving conflicts and for maintaining continuity and stability over time. Consistent with the values and structures of a society, legal systems set standards and establish rules, but they also provide for the negotiation or resolution of disputes and differences through courts or other dynamic sites of interaction. Moreover, in most societies one finds more than one legal system operating, creating a situation of legal pluralism. Building on these perspectives, the class will explore anthropological studies of law within the following categories: early studies by anthropologists of legal systems considered “customary,” “folk,” or “indigenous,”; more recent studies that take up problems such as “legal pluralism,” “law and colonialism,” or the relationship between indigenous systems and the state, or “access to justice” in any context. We will conclude with attention to questions of human rights and intangible cultural property. The course emphasizes the actual performance and practice of legal issues in courts or other contexts.

The various legal systems represented in the readings and presentations will include selected ones from Native American, African, Trobriand Islands, and Islamic societies, as well as studies addressing contemporary issues such as human rights, gender and law, cultural justice, and intellectual property. Guest speakers will speak on specific problems in the anthropology of law. Students will write reviews of specific readings and present them in class. Two papers will be required: one short paper at mid-point through the semester, and one long paper (20 pages) at the end of the semester on a specific legal system in a specific culture, or, on a specific problem in the anthropology of law identified in the class (e.g., legal pluralism, human rights, gender and law, restorative justice, etc.). [syllabus F05]


Around the globe social and cultural groups express resistance to domination through the performance of symbolic forms such as ritual, religion, song, narrative, the novel, language, food, film/tv, etc. Equally common, the nation state utilizes the same resources from its indigenous cultures or created out of symbolic resources to produce unity, loyalty and patriotism. These symbolic and artistic forms constitute a powerful force in the phenomenon we label "nationalism."

This course deals with the process that accomplishes these purposes, whether domination or resistance. While related to the distribution and flow of power at any time, these processes are especially crucial in periods of transition, war, or political upheaval.

After several sessions devoted to discussion of theories of nationalism we will focus on ethnographic studies in different parts of the world, emphasizing the processes by which nationalism operates, the forms through which it communicates,(such as popular culture, religion, war, spectacle), the changes forms undergo in order to express the desired goals, and processes of resistance. Not only will we consider nationalism of the dominant cultural group, associated with or supported by the state, but we will view cultural nationalism performed by minority groups. The course will conclude with a consideration of the relationship between the national and transnational or global forces. [syllabus Sp08]


If we take ritual to be the social act basic to humanity, as Rappaport argues, this formal event and the multiple related ritual genres (festival, carnival, drama, contests, pilgrimage, etc.), provide an arena for the exploration of the social response to contradiction . Rituals intensify and condense communication, creating an experimental technology, in the words of the Comaroffs, to affect the flow of power in the universe, to plumb the magicalities of modernity.

The course will focus on the larger concept of ritual genres as performed in various locations. Using anthropological theories of ritual and power, the course will consider the production of ritual, the form itself, its discourse, and the actual performance. Selected studies will concentrate on the public context of ritual and festival, participation of specific populations, and the outcomes, planned and unplanned. Linking ritual to public culture, the course explores it as a response to contradiction in social and political life. We will consider the interaction of the ritual genres with politics, tourism, history, identity, gender, the state, religion. Examples will include rites of passage (traditional ones and newly created ones), historical celebrations enacting an event in history, occupational festivals, rituals of domination and rituals of resistance. [syllbus F07]