Editor’s Note: The following post is an assignment from the La Salle faculty training course Collaboration Online Plus. In this assignment, course participants are tasked with redesigning an face-to-face lesson for the online environment. Please show support to your fellow Lasallians by leaving your feedback on their ideas in the comments section below this post.
Background: After students have read selections from Frazer’s Golden Bough (where Frazer treats myths and ritualized behavior as pre-scientific superstitions) and Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough (where Wittgenstein takes pains to disabuse us of the notion that the ancients are unique in mythic and ritualized behavior – that we, as members of a scientific community, are above such things).
Have you ever wondered what an alien civilization or a civilization from the future would think about some of our wacky behavior? Or have you been in a foreign culture and thought that a behavior or belief is very strange when they simply take it for granted?
Immediately jumping to my mind are practices involved in funerals, weddings, sporting events. We lay flowers on the graves of loved ones. Why? Might not another culture think that we believe that the spirits of the dead linger and enjoy the aroma? Sometimes we bury Eagles’ fans in their favorite jersey. What might a civilization in the future upon becoming aware of that practice, think about our beliefs about the dead?
I think of football fans waving at the opposing teams field goal attempts. Or Carlton Fisk waving at the ball he hit. What are they waving at?? Does their behavior imply that they believe that they can affect the course of the ball? It might be easy for someone from another civilization to think that it does. But do they really think that? Is it possible that we’re making a similar mistake in thinking about the behavior of the ancients?
Assignment: Take 10 minutes and try to come up with as many examples from contemporary culture that from the perspective of a civilization in the future would like we have superstitious beliefs or behavior. Feel free to use the internet. It might be helpful to jump back and forth between the internet and the whiteboard as you and your classmates stimulate one another’s thinking.
Looking forward: Your next assignment will be to take one of the practices from the brainstorming session and to write a brief, fictionally anthropological account of this behavior from a culture far advanced of our own. What mistakes might they make about our beliefs based on our weird behavior?