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Myth Notes

Theology Notes > Study of Religion Notes

This is an extract of our Myth document, which we sell as part of our Study of Religion Notes collection written by the top tier of Oxford students.

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How do myths help us understand religion?

What is a myth?---

Robert Segal in 'Myth: A Very Short Introduction' 'divides approaches to myth into questions of origin, function and subject matter' o 'myth is first and foremost a story, can take place in past/present/future, main protagonists must be personalities (divine/ human/animal), accomplishes something significant for its adherents who hold to it tenaciously' 'the science of mythology has been the meeting point of various scholarships', historian/psychoanalyst/archaeologist/sociologist/anthropologist 'it is not an idle tale, but a hard-worked active force; it is not an intellectual explanation/ artistic imagery, but a pragmatic charter of primitive faith and moral wisdom' o 'these stories form an integral part of culture...they govern and control many cultural features, they form the dogmatic backbone of primitive civilization.'
? 'the knowledge of which supplies man with the motive for ritual and moral actions as well as with indications as to how to perform them' Malinowski's criticism of view of myths as purely etiological 'the myth can be regarded as constituting the furthest background of a continuous perspective which ranges from an individual's personal concerns, fears, and sorrow... through the customary setting of belief, through the many concrete cases told from personal experience and memory of past generatons, right back into the epoch where a similar fact is imagines to have occurred for the first time.' Malinowski: o 'Myth is above all a cultural force' o 'Also a narrative, some myths are succinct statements, some eminently dramatic' o 'belief whether in magic or religion, is closely associated with the deepest desires of man, his fears, his hopes/passions etc. o '2 theories of myth were discredited'
? 'the view that myth is a rhapsodic rendering of natural phenomena'
? 'Andrew Lang's doctrine that myth is essentially an explanation o 'but once we realise that myth serves to establish a sociological charter/retrospective moral pattern of behaviour it becomes clear that elements both of explanation and of interest in nature must be found in sacred legends.' HOW DOES UNDERSTANDING WHAT A MYTH IS HELP US UNDERSTAND RELIGION?

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