Course description

Anthropology of consciousness and practices of awareness


Comparative Study of Ideas and Cultures (3rd cycle)

Anthropology: Understanding Worldmaking Practices

Course principal:
Asst. Prof. Maja Petrović Šteger, Ph. D.


Course code: 61

Year of study: Not specified

Workload: lectures 60 hours, seminars 30 hours

Course type: general elective

Languages: Slovene, English

Learning and teaching methods: lectures, seminars


Course Syllabus


None required.


Content (Syllabus outline)

The lectures will query and debate the above mentioned propositions by considering the following topics:

  • Clinical and contemplative perspectives on consciousness: consciousness as a state of matter, an entity, an experience, or a process?
  • Consciousness and ethnometaphysics;
  • Consciousness and anthropology of the self;
  • Consciousness and body, bodily practices;
  • Consciousness and neurosciences;
  • Physiology of the consciousness;
  • Individual vs. collective consciousness;
  • Ritual consciousness;
  • Consciousness and mental health;
  • Consciousness and trauma;
  • Consciousness and memory;
  • Consciousness and spiritual practices;
  • Epistemologies of healing;
  • Altered state of consciousness – trance, meditation, trance, lucid dreams, possession, disease; from shamanism, neoshamanism to contemporary transpersonal psychotherapies, etc.
  • Self-induced altered state of consciousness: pathological hallucinations or entheogenic states;
  • The role of psychoactive substances in altering consciousness;
  • Consciousness and cognitive orientation in a cosmos.



  • Adams Vinacanne, Mona Schrempf in Sienna R. Craig (ur.). 2010. Medicine Between Science and Religion Explorations on Tibetan Grounds. New York: Berghahn.
  • Anderson, R. S., Bernucci, R. J. et al. 1966. Neuropsychiatry in World War II. Washington D.C.: Office of the Surgeon General, Department of the Army.
  • Andreasen, N. C. 2001. Brave New Brain: Conquering Mental Illness in the Era of the Genome. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Alberts, Thomas Karl. 2015. Shamanism, Discourse, Modernity. Ashgate Publishing.
  • Baron-Cohen S., Tager-Flusberg, H. in Cohen D. J. 2000. Understanding Other Minds: Perspectives from Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Bateson, Gregory. 1972. 2019. Ekologija idej: Zbrani eseji iz antropologije, psihiatrije, evolucije in epistemologije. Ljubljana: Knjižna zbirka Koda, Beletrina.
  • Blainey, Marc. 2010. The Future of the Discipline. Considering the Ontological/Methodological Future of the Anthropology of Consciousness, Part II – Towards an Ethnometaphysics of Consciousness. Anthropology of Consciousness 21 (2): 113–138.
  • Castillo, J. Richard. 1995. Culture, Trance, and the Mind-Brain. The Anthropology of Consciousness 2 (3-4): 17–34.
  • Clifford, James. 1986. New Translations of Michel Leiris. Sulfur 15: 4–125.
  • Favret-Saada, Jeanne. 1977. Deadly Words: Witchcraft in the Bocage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Horden, Peregrine in Elisabeth Hsu (ur.). 2013. The Body in Balance: Humoral Medicines in Practice. New York: Berghahn.
  • Lakoff, Andrew. 2005. Pharmaceutical reason: knowledge and value in global psychiatry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Laughlin, Charles D. 2011. Communing with the Gods: Consciousness, Culture and the Dreaming Brain. Brisbane: Daily Grail.
  • Luhrmann, Tanya. 2001. Of Two Minds. An Anthropology Looks at American Psychiatry. London: Vintage.
  • Luhrmann, M. Tanya. 2011. Hallucinations and sensory overrides. Annual Review of Anthropology 40: 71–85.
  • Luhrmann, M. Tanya in Rachel Morgain. 2012. Prayer as inner sense cultivation. Ethos, 40(4): 359–389.
  • Luhrmann, M. Tanya. 2020. Mind and Spirit: a comparative theory about representation of mind and the experience of spirit. JRAI, 26(S1): 9-27.
  • Lock, Margaret. 2001. Twice Dead: Organ Transplants and the Reinvention of Death. Berkeley: California University Press.
  • Price-Williams Douglass in Dureen Hughes. 1994. Shamanism and Altered State of Consciousness. Anthropology of Consciousness 5(2): 1–15.
  • Rodd H. Robin. 2006. Piaroa Sorcery and the Navigation of Negative Affect: To Be Aware, to Turn Away. Anthropology of Consciousness 17 (1): 35–64.
  • Rose, Nikolas in Joelle M. Abi-Rached. 2013. Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Revonsuo, Anitti. 2006. Inner Presence: Consciousness as a Biological Phenomenon. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Safran, D. Jeremy. 2003. Psychoanalysis and Buddhism: An Unfolding Dialogue. Somerville: Widsom Publications.
  • Sheldrake, Rupert. 2012. The Science Delusion: Freeing The Spirit of Enquiry. London: Coronet House Publishing.
  • Tedlock Barbara (ur.). 1987. Dreaming: Anthropological and Psychological Interpretations. Santa Fe: SAR.
  • Thobeka Wreford, Jo. 2008. Working with Spirit. Experiencing Izangoma in Contemporary South Africa. New York: Berghahn.
  • Thompson, Evan. 2015. Waking, Dreaming, Being. Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation and Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Throop, C. Jason. 2010. Suffering and Sentiment: Exploring the Vicissitudes of Experience and Pain in Yap. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Tononi, Giulio in Gerald M. Edelman. 1998. Consciousness and Complexity. Science 282: 1846–1853.
  • Turner, Victor. 1983. Body, Brain, and Culture. Zygon 18(3): 221–245.
  • van der Kolk, Bessel. 2014. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Viking.
  • Vyner, M. Henry. 2009. A Preliminary Theory of the Defining Dynamic of the Healthy Human Mind. Imagination, Cognition and Personality 29(3): 225–270.
  • Winkelman, Michael. 2010. Shamanism: A Biopsychosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Healing. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger.
  • Windt, Jennifer M. 2015. Dreaming: A Conceptual Framework for Philosophy of Mind and Empirical Research. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Objectives and competences

Anthropological enquiries have always been guided by the question of how do we know the world? How do we conceive and articulate it? How come that people under similar circumstances experience their “subjective” lives in vastly different ways? To what degree human beings share needs, characteristics and capacities? On what basis such claims can be made? What is at the core of human experience?


In order to answer these and other questions, anthropologists document the different ways in which people think and practice their worlds – they study their religion, politics, economy, kinship, ritual, memory, environment, community, notions of selfhood, etc. Yet much of anthropological theorising has always focused also on the nonmaterial, spiritual or moral aspects of human beings and their worldmaking practices. Anthropological accounts, for example, often describe the presence of “spirits” and “souls” in people’s experiences of illness, in their dreams, taboos or performances. Importantly, such investigations open up another set of seminal research and philosophical questions: Are people best understood by studying their habits and practices? The ways they relate to other people? The ways they manage and treat their bodies? Their minds? Brains? Souls?


The overall aim of this course is to explore and analyse worldwide cultural and social practices, which posit that consciousness lies at the core of human being and the core of the human experience. This vein of thinking presupposes that consciousness is, so to speak, “the substrate within which all human experiences occur” (Blainey 2010: 118).


Intended learning outcomes:

Students will learn how to think, describe, analyse and communicate different anthropological perspectives and understandings of ‘mind’ and human consciousness.


Learning and teaching methods:

Types of learning/teaching:

  • Frontal teaching
  • Independent students work
  • e-learning


Teaching methods:

  • Explanation
  • Conversation/discussion/debate
  • Work with texts
  • Case studies
  • Field work (e.g. company visits)
  • Inviting guests from companies



  • Short written assignment (20 %),
  • presentations (20 %),
  • final examination (written/oral) (60 %)


Anthropology of consciousness and practices of awareness

Asst. Prof. Maja Petrović Šteger, Ph. D.,


Anthropology of Fertility

Assoc. Prof. Duška Kneževič Hočevar, Ph.D.,


Cosmology of Mesoamerican Societies

Prof. Ivan Šprajc, Ph.D.,


Epistemological pluralism and “decolonizing” methods in ethnographic research

Assoc. Prof. Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Ph.D.,


Laughing politically: toward the anthropology of humor

Prof. Tanja Petrović, Ph.D.,


Public anthropology, social engagement and activism

Assoc. Prof. Ana Hofman, Ph.D.,


Research Methodology in Anthropological Linguistics

Prof. Borut Telban, Ph.D.,

Karmen Kenda-Jež, Ph.D.,


Space and movement: towards anthropology of locations and migrations

Asst. Prof. Nataša Gregorič Bon, Ph.D.,