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Myth Conceptions: Old & New (Honors)

Myths are for ancient, superstitious, or traditional folk not modern, scientific-types like us. Right? In fact, every society has myths; every society has authoritative stories, ideas, and attitudes that “go without saying.” Although this course won’t determine which myths make a good society, it will show that “mythologically-aware” citizens are a necessary ingredient for one. But learning to see our own myths is like asking a fish to be aware of the water in which it swims. So this course will start by reading several narratives from the ancient Near East, including the Enuma Elish and the Epic of Gilgamesh. We will learn from these readings that myths were used to construct and support social identity, cultural prestige, and various politico-religious programs. In other words, we will see that myths actually reflected and shaped human society. The issues and themes we investigate in the ancient setting will then be used to understand modern mythmaking, especially in America but also in a couple of other modern social groups, including Al Qaeda terrorists and the Maori people as depicted in Whale Rider. Far from static, we will learn that “myth” is an ideological battle ground.