Summer 2004

HUMS 630
Creation Narratives

Anderson,Karen

06/28/2004 - 08/11/2004
Monday & Wednesday 06:00 PM - 08:30 PM

Fisk Hall 412

Stories about the beginning have a powerful way of shaping our understanding of the middle and the end. Human beginnings, in religious narratives, constitute a map of what is possible or righteous in present and future human arrangements: Hindu society has four classes because the primordial man was sacrificially divided into four parts; the Alaskan sun disappears and returns in the annual reenactment of Raven retrieving the stolen disc; human pain and death originate in biblical punishment of Adam's and Eve's consumption of fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. These sacred narratives outline the scope of everyday experience through the original interaction of transcendent power in natural and human affairs. Such narratives change in their retelling, adapting to their teller's own context--Hildegard von Bingen retells the fall from Eden to emphasize its medical consequences while John Milton tells it as a story of human wilfullness. Such narrative transmutations show creation narratives as fundamentally human stories, told by, for, and about human concerns.

Creation narratives are often political as well as religious stories, portraying a political event as having supernatural authority. The Hindu story about the origins of the Ganges river--transformed from chaotic flood to a flow restricted by the god Siva's hair--has long been a popular sacred narrative, but the story itself has a political lineage: originally, it commemorates the history of the Pallava kings' defeat of the dynasty named Ganga. This story has a continuum of retellings which change by time and context. Does it make sense to choose one slice of that continuum as "the true version" of the story, or should we focus our interpretive efforts upon how and why the story changes with each retelling? In this course, we will explore the literary structure of creation narratives and their social contexts, and we will study how interpretations of those narratives serve--in their own ways--to retell and give new meaning to the story.

Creation narratives from Hindu South Asia, Athabaskan and Tlingit Alaska, Amazonian South America, and Christian Europe will be our primary texts. We will also analyze those texts in conversation and debate with classic academic interpretations of mythology, including Claude Levi-Strauss' structuralism, Mircea Eliade's universalism, Roland Barthes' contrast between myth and truth, and Bruce Lincoln's post-Marxism.

Students will be responsible for two essays (four pages each) and a final 12-15 page research paper, which will draw from one of the two essays.

By student petition, this course may be counted toward the social sciences concentration.

A syllabus for this course is available at:
http://www.wesleyan.edu/masters/courses/Summer_2004/su04_syllabi/syb_hums630.html


Karen Anderson (B.A. Hunter College; M.A., Ph.D. University of Chicago) is associate dean of Continuing Studies and director of the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at Wesleyan University.


ENROLLMENT INFORMATION

Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
Catherine Attla, SITSIY YUGH NOHOLNIK TS'IN AS MY GRANDFATHER TOLD IT (Alaska Nataive Language Center), Paperback

Margret Berger (translator), HILDEGARD OF BINGEN: ON NATURAL PHILOSOPHY AND MEDICINE SELECTIONS FROM CAUSE ET CURE (Boydell & Brewer, 1999), Paperback

Mircea Eliade, THE MYTH OF THE ETERNAL RETURN: OR, COSMOS AND HISTORY (Princeton University Press), Paperback

Bruce Lincoln, THEORIZING MYTH: NARRATIVE, IDEOLOGY, AND SCHOLARSHIP (University of Chicago Press), Paperback

John Milton, PARADISE LOST (Prentice Hall, 2003), Paperback

Richard Nelson, MAKE PRAYERS TO THE RAVEN: A KOYUKON VIEW OF THE NORTHERN FOREST (University of Chicago Press), Paperback

Patrick Olivelle (translator), UPANISADS (Oxford University Press, 1998), Paperback

Lawrence Sullivan, ICANCHU'S DRUM: AN ORIENTATION TO THE MEANING IN SOUTH AMERICA RELIGIONS (Macmillan, 1990), Paperback

READING MATERIALS AVAILABLE AT BROAD STREET BOOKS, 45 BROAD STREET, MIDDLETOWN, 860-685-7323

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