Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
First-Year Seminar

Academics

FYS Section A08. From Hell to Hogwarts

Two of the big things that make us human are the stories we tell and the religions we follow. The origins of both go back into the distant past—so far back that they seem to share many fundamental features. A new branch of religious studies is attempting to combine the study of anthropology, psychology and narrative to figure out what makes a good religious narrative; this theory also makes testable predictions about what makes a good non-religious narrative. This class will study this approach to narrative and then apply it to a set of interrelated texts focusing on the theme of the descent to hell, from the beginnings of written culture (Homer’s Odyssey) through the medieval period (Dante’s Inferno) to today (Eliot’s Wasteland, Rowling’s Harry Potter series). We will see how well this approach to narrative holds up in different time periods and different genres. The class will be capped off with a large group project where students will pick works in a genre of their choice (folklore, song, epic, poetry, novel, etc.) to see which works “fit” best with the theory.

Thomas Dolack
Visiting Assistant Professor of Russian