Myth : A Biography of Belief

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Joseph Campbell wrote that mythology is "the wonderful song of the soul's high adventure." In Myth, David Leeming considers the role this "wonderful song" has to play in a world increasingly dependent on scientific and technical information. Exploring classic works such as the Song of Songs, the Tao Te Ching, the Rg Veda, the New Testament, and the Indonesian myth of Hainuwele, Myth reveals the cultural energies that ancient "mythmakers" sought to corral in their creations. Leeming argues that myths are, by definition, evolving creations that live on in the work of modern-day "mythmakers" such as W.B. Yeats, Virginia Woolf, and Albert Einstein. Leeming provides an engaging new outlook on the role of myth in the works of these and other contemporary artists and scientists. The similarities between modern concepts like the "Big Bang" and ancient myths of creation illustrate our continuing need to confront the mysteries of existence by way of metaphor and narrative. Leeming suggests that myth and factual knowledge do not negate, but complement each other. Whether it is the "American Dream," alien abduction, or belief in virgin birth and resurrection, these "living myths" play a very therapeutic role in the development of a healthy society. In Myth: A Biography of Belief, David Leeming shows that myths are still a fitting way to capture "the soul's high adventure."show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 192 pages
  • 133.6 x 185.4 x 20.6mm | 589.68g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195142888
  • 9780195142884

Review quote

"David Leeming has provided us in this compact book a compelling account of the powers of myth to inform the human condition and ultimately to provide meaning as myth persists from ancient time to the present. Here, the reader will enter into the mythic worlds of classic religious texts, into debates about science and modernism, and perhaps most importantly, into the realm of myth's enduring archetype, the hero."--Richard D. Hecht, Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion, University of California at Santa Barbara"A profound interpretation of myth and religion. A must for all seekers after meaning and purpose." - James H. Cone Briggs Distinguished Professor of Theology, Union Theological Seminary"In this little book, Leeming's ideas about the emerging myths of the twenty-first century (set suitably into a history of myth) make it essential that, within a few years, he write another book to tell us how it all came out."--Paul Bohannan, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, University of Southern Californiashow more

About David Leeming

David Leeming is Emeritus Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut and author of A Dictionary of Asian Mythology (OUP 2000). He currently resides in Riverdale, New more

Review Text

A glib, superficial overview of the protean world of myth and its 21st-century transformations. This slender volume is based on lectures Leeming (English and Comparative Literature/Univ. of Connecticut; "Stephen Spender", 1999, etc.) delivered in the fall of 2000 at New York's Interfaith Center. After an introductory chapter on the relation between myth and religion, Leeming offers chapters on three mythological themes: creation, deity, and the hero. Each of these begins with a selection of brief mythological narratives (many drawn from Leeming's previous works), an analysis of the archetypal patterns the stories reveal, and an interpretation of the archetype, sometimes in the form of a ludicrous fictional gathering of "mythmakers." Literary examples from writers like Virginia Woolf, Leslie Marmon Silko, and William Carlos Williams illustrate what Leeming takes to be the modern and postmodern remaking of the archetypes. Leeming's analyses rely heavily on Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and Mircea Eliade, and share their privileging of Gnostic, esoteric, and Eastern traditions over the Abrahamic exoteric traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. There is nary a mention here of any theologian whose idea of God is more robust than Paul Tillich's; indeed, all such are dismissed repeatedly as fundamentalists. Instead, the Campbellian-Jungian broth is thickened with such trendy and marginally coherent writers as Matthew Fox, Brian Swimme, and Thomas Berry and spiced with murky reflections on the uncertainty principle, the New (actually by now rather old) Physics, and ritualistic obeisances to the virtues of inclusiveness and the wickedness of patriarchy. Very little if any of the serious scholarly work on myth and religion done in the past 50 years (Eliade excepted) seems to have come within Leeming's purview. The writers he is popularizing are mostly accessible, and have been written about extensively by others. Those who want to sample the "new mythology" at its source might turn to the works of Helena Blavatsky. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

33 ratings
3.87 out of 5 stars
5 27% (9)
4 39% (13)
3 27% (9)
2 6% (2)
1 0% (0)
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