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Department of the Study of Religions

Jordan Lectures In Comparative Religion

May 12–16, 2014

Historical Comparative Mythology 
A New Approach, Its Predecessors and Its Critics


Michael Witzel (Harvard University)

Professor Witzel is Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University, USA.

Chair: Dr Peter Flügel, SOAS

Show previous events in this series

Forthcoming Events

Jordan Lectures 2014 – A New Approach to Mythology: Historical Comparative Mythology

Michael Witzel (Harvard University)

In this presentation I offer a general introduction to my book "The origins of the world's mythologies"  (OUP 2012). I will discuss and problematize the new method employed: a combination of a comparative and an historical approach that leads to recurrent reconstructions of increasingly earlier mythologies. As such, the proposed approach is parallel to those in linguistics, stemmatics, paleontology and genetics.

12 May 2014, Russell Square: College Buildings, Khalili Lecture Theatre, 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM

Jordan Lectures 2014 – Oldest Japan and Oldest India: Two Unlikely Candidates for Comparison?

Michael Witzel (Harvard University)

Building on the preceding talk, in this presentation I seek to compare two mythologies that are distant in time and space, the oldest Indian one (Veda, c. 1000 BCE) and the oldest Japanese one (Kojiki 712 CE, Nihon Shoki 720 CE). Reasons for their surprising resemblances are given, based on a close comparison of two key myths, that of the hidden sun  (Iwato, Vala) and of the slaying of the Dragon. An ancient common source will be proposed.

13 May 2014, Russell Square: College Buildings, L67, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Jordan Lectures 2014 – Some Recent Approaches to Comparative Mythology: Dumézil, Burghardt, Puhvel, M.L. West, B. Lincoln

Michael Witzel (Harvard University)

In this talk I aim to point out some similarities and differences in the approaches of recent mythologists, who are however mostly dealing with Indo-European materials. Some reasons will be given why we must go beyond the narrow confines of this well-reconstructed family of languages, religions and rituals.

14 May 2014, Russell Square: College Buildings, L67, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Jordan Lectures 2014 – Mythology or Folklore: The Curious Case of Alan Dundes and His Students

Michael Witzel (Harvard University)

Contrary to claims made earlier in the 20th century by diffusionists and those who uphold Jungian archetypes, the well known folklorist A. Dundes has decreed that no such “universals” exist. However in search for a “grand theory” of folklore he employs another 20th century universalist, S. Freud. His former students closely follow Dundes.

15 May 2014, Russell Square: College Buildings, L67, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Jordan Lectures 2014 – A Glimpse of the Future: Exploring, Comparing and Saving Some Neglected Mythologies

Michael Witzel (Harvard University)

At the present stage of myth studies, there is an urgent need to compare some neglected mythologies that can tell us more about early stages of mythology as practiced by those who moved into Europe around 40 thousand years ago.  Further, we need to study the early substrates in populations or those "empty spaces" that have been overlaid by the Christian and Muslim religions. Finally, there is the urgent need to record and "save" some endangered mythologies.

16 May 2014, Russell Square: College Buildings, L67, 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM