Human beings organize and navigate their experience of everyday life and their interactions with others through the creation, presentation, and representation of myths. This dissertation expands the definition of myth beyond stories of gods and humans to include social narratives used by groups and individuals to contextualize and define everyday situations. As such, they perform vital social functions. These include providing common narratives that have the power to bind otherwise independent beings into more or less coherent collectives capable of joint actions, as well as reducing feelings of individual isolation and existential anxiety by narratively making sense out of the violence, unpredictability, and discontinuity that accompany life. Myths are constructed narratives that masquerade as common sense; they appear to have a supernatural or supra-human basis or origin. Their created nature is collectively, and often unconsciously, denied by those who adhere to them.
This dissertation outlines an approach to mythology grounded in sociological principles as an alternative to the more familiar approaches of the humanities, religious studies, or psychology. Synthesizing principles drawn from the sociological schools of social constructionism and symbolic interactionism, this dissertation proposes that humans, as users of complex, symbolic language, necessarily experience the world through a matrix of narratives both written and unwritten. But this approach is not simply social constructionism or symbolic interactionism with a mythological gloss. Instead, it serves as a bridge between the macro view of social constructionism and the micro view of symbolic interactionism.
This dissertation treats myths not as currencies of belief, but rather as currencies of behavior and consequence. For illustration, three examples from the modern world are presented: 1) How same-sex inclusion challenges traditionalist myths of marriage; 2) How myths of divine providence and expansionism have influenced American domestic and foreign policy from the nation's inception to the present; and 3) The role that the propagandizing of engrained cultural myths and stereotypes played during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Ethical and moral implications of human-constructed myths are also considered.
|Commitee:||Mahaffey, Patrick, Moore, Rebecca, Slattery, Dennis P.|
|School:||Pacifica Graduate Institute|
|School Location:||United States -- California|
|Source:||DAI-A 76/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Social psychology, Sociology, Social structure|
|Keywords:||1994 rwandan genocide, Manifest destiny, Mythology, Same-sex marriage, Social construction, Symbolic interactionism|
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