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Anthropologist welcomes zombies in the classroom

“The Anthropology of Zombies and the ‘Undead,’” a fourth-year course that explores the cultural fascination with the beings that occupy the space between life and death.

Oct 30, 2016

Article by Matt Terry, originally posted in the McMaster Daily News

Anthropologist welcomes zombies in the classroom

Liminal beings. The walking undead. Zombies.

No matter what you call them, they’re everywhere: the big screen (World War Z), the small screen (The Walking Dead), even outside your window screen (just kidding).

Zombies currently garner more than their share of attention in the pop culture realm, which is exactly why Karen McGarry has invited them into the classroom.

McGarry teaches “The Anthropology of Zombies and the ‘Undead,’” a fourth-year course that explores the cultural fascination with the beings that occupy the space between life and death.

“We look at the origins of zombie stories, rooted in Haitian religion and voodoo practices,” she says. “And then we look at how the stories and myths have changed over the years and become integrated into pop culture.”

McGarry also uses the undead to explore more serious anthropological issues, such as race, gender, sexuality and cultural anxieties.

“For example, we look at the connection between the proliferation of zombie stories in film and mass media with the events of September 11 and its aftermath.”

It’s a depth of subject matter McGarry says initially surprised students.

“The course is definitely not about sitting around watching zombie movies,” she says.

In fact, McGarry says she doesn’t particularly like such films.

“It doesn’t matter what vehicle you use to look at issues of race, racism or gendered representations in society,” she says. “But it’s a topic students can easily relate to, and as an anthropologist, I’m fascinated by the popularity of zombies.”