At Sweet Briar, we concentrate on social and cultural anthropology and archaeology . We have particular strengths in teaching about peoples of the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Africa and the archaeology of Central Asia, where our faculty have ongoing research projects. Our courses cover a wide range of human experience and current anthropological questions, including both the core problems anthropology has studied since its beginnings — marriage patterns and kinship systems, political life, ritual and different beliefs about spirits, gods, and human powers — and new ones that have engaged anthropologists more recently — how the body becomes a site where cultural experience is formed and sometimes contested, healing and illness in different societal contexts, environmentalism, commoditization and value, and how visual representations of other peoples' experience work.
As part of our program, we ask students to recognize the theoretical assumptions that underlie social and cultural experiences and difference, and to think critically about them when attempting to describe a cultural practice or social situation. We also ask students to take a course in anthropological methods, in which they explore different ways of observing, interacting and interviewing others, and representing the viewpoints of others in ethnographic writing.
Anthropology gives us the opportunity and the skills to try to see the world through the eyes of other people.
Anthropology students at Sweet Briar learn to think about cultural experience comparatively — to recognize different assumptions about persons and the world that underlie different cultures, and to think critically about the economic, social and political conditions in these cultural experiences take form. Such comparative thought leads students to develop an increased awareness of their own social and cultural experience. Imagining both oneself and others in larger cultural and social contexts has important implications for undergraduate students who later become anthropologists, doctors, lawyers, business leaders, politicians or social workers — and who come to understand the world through an anthropological perspective.