SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Myth and Mythmaking

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Full Year

This course offers a comprehensive introduction to a recent, ongoing, and controversial debate within the contemporary field of mythology which has argued for the need to view myth and mythmaking, as well as scholarly analyses and theorisations of myths and mythmaking, as political artefacts embedded in, productive of, and in turn produced by power/knowledge relations. The emergence of the debate signals an accumulating dissatisfaction with a number of interrelated trends that have defined the study of myth historically, but most significantly in the twentieth century. These include, but are not limited to: firstly, comparative studies of bodies of myths that do not pay enough attention to their individual cultural and temporal contexts and differences but rather extract universal structures and meaning from their analysis; secondly, a lack of reflexivity on the part of scholars of myth in assuming too sharply-drawn distinctions between their own work and theories and that of the mythmakers and myths under analysis; thirdly, a tendency to consider the category of ‘myth’ as one that exists prior to any attempt to theorise and name its features and functions and then to proceed from that assumption to render natural and universal that which is perhaps instead constructed and contingent; fourthly, a failure to recognise the discursive and dialogic qualities of mythmaking and myths and thus a tendency to ignore, fail to discern, or elide, the productive function of myth in a variety of power/knowledge matrices; and finally, the maintenance of a value-laden definition of myth as confined to a type of narrative genre that can be distinguished from other genres such as non-fiction, autobiography, history and so on, on the basis of its fictional content.

Some contemporary scholars of myth and mythmaking, whose work will provide the intellectual framework for the course, have thus argued that the overly narrow categorisation of myth as ‘fictional story’ should be deconstructed in order to trace the political interests and effects that are at work in the maintenance of distinctions between truthful and false narratives and, further, that this self-imposed definitional limitation on the field of mythology should itself be constituted as an object of analysis. As such, these scholars have sought to expand definitions of myth to include any narratives or discursive forms, cultural practices, or historical events that are constituted publicly or privately as coherent and continuous, or as foundational for assertions of identity or identification, whether individual or collective.

This course will, in taking the challenge of these scholars seriously, thus attempt to expand common definitions and classifications of myth in order to examine how historical and contemporary forms of mythmaking (whether in nationalist discourse, art criticism, oral storytelling, advertising, or psychoanalysis, for example) serve both as a mirror of prevailing social and personal identities and a powerfully coercive template for their formation. The course will examine the emergence of the category ‘myth’ historically and track its development through a series of case studies including, but not limited to: Myth and Colonialism; The Grimm Brothers’ Fairytales and their relationship to German nationalism; Myth and Antisemitism; Feminist revisions of myths and folktales; the ‘War on Terror’. Students will be expected to write an extended essay, derived from the case-study model presented in lectures, that brings together ideas about myth and mythmaking, identity, and politics.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this course, a student will:

  1. Have acquired a comprehensive overview of the history of mythology;
  2. Have reflected on the relationship between myth, mythmaking and politics;
  3. Have examined the importance of gender, race, and class to the content and form of myth and mythology;
  4. Be able critically to evaluate a variety of books, journals and other sources of information relevant to the topics studies on the course;
  5. Have produced and presented a detailed research paper on an area related to the contemporary analysis of myth as discourse;
  6. Have developed core skills in evaluation, self-reflection, team work, and oral presentation.


This course will be taught over 22 weeks and you will be expected to attend a lecture for 2 hours.

Method of assessment

You will be expected to write 2 essays of 3-4000 words each which count towards 90% of your total mark.You will also have to give 1x30 minute group presentation. This will be 10% towards your final mark.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules