At Sweet Briar, we concentrate on social and cultural anthropology, and, with the archaeology program, on archaeology. We have particular strengths in teaching about peoples of the Mediterranean 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, 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 the various ways we talk about 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 learning about other people's lives and different ways of representing them in ethnographic form.
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 which cultural experience takes form. Such comparative thought leads them to increased awareness of their own social and cultural experience, and to think about how those experiences shape their work as anthropologists, or doctors, lawyers, business leaders, politicians or social workers — as people with an anthropological view.