Jon Stout's Reviews > A Short History Of Myth

A Short History Of Myth by Karen Armstrong
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May 29, 2010

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bookshelves: religion
Recommended to Jon by: Bob Nichols
Recommended for: technocrats and political realists
Read in May, 2010

Since myth always plays a big part in the faith-versus-scientific-method discussions, this little book clarifies an important aspect of culture appropriated by both sides. Those favoring scientific method say that religion is nothing but myth, and those defending the role of faith say that myth is an important activity in itself and central to our culture.

Karen Armstrong discusses the role of myth from the hunter-gatherer era (starting 20000 BCE), through the agricultural era (starting 8000 BCE), through the urbanization of ancient civilizations (starting 4000 BCE), through what she and Karl Jaspers call the Axial Age (starting 800 BCE) of the great sages, such as Confucius, Laozi, the Buddha, the Hebrew prophets and the Greek philosophers. These sages shaped the world religions as we know them up until the Enlightenment, when the logos of science came to be seen as a challenge to the mythos of religion.

Armstrong reviews contemporary literature and art as playing the role of myth in our society, as she points out that despite technological change, there is still a hunger for meaning, for an understanding of the sacred, and for guidance on how to face a strange, new world. Her discussion gives both breadth, and the breath of life, to a part of the intellect which is often reduced to simple non-fact. It brings to light what, to the technological mind, lurks in the shadows of public awareness.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Bob (new) - rated it 2 stars

Bob Nichols Can a search for truth, without myth, provide meaning?


message 2: by Jon (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jon Stout You can certainly avoid using the word "myth." But I think if you get into the realm of meaning and value, then myth is a powerful, almost inescapable tool, in the same (and overlapping) way that literature and art are powerful tools in the search for truth.

You have made me interested in Eliade, because I think that, if one avoids myth, it still (as you say) sneaks in by the back door. One way or another we organize the things we think are important in some sort of poetic vision for ourselves.


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