Mythology, discourse, and authority: Retrospective methods in cultural research

‘Mythology’, ‘discourse’ and ‘authority’ have become key terms and concepts in a number of disciplines. However, they can be extremely challenging to analyze especially in cultures of the past, particularly because they interact and affect one another so that they easily seem to shift or become ambiguous under scrutiny. In addition, each term may be defined in different and sometimes inconsistent ways depending on the discipline and background of the approach being used. ‘Mythology’, for example, is sometimes narrowly defined in terms of stories about gods and cosmology but may also be conceived broadly in terms of symbols in mythic discourse or still more broadly in terms of beliefs and ideologies. Whichever way it is defined, mythology only has reality through social manifestations in discourse, and it is reciprocally constructed through various discourses in dialogue with one another as they engage with different mythologies or with the same mythologies in different ways. Hierarchies of relative authority also develop between individual genres and registers of discourse – both verbal and non-verbal – according to how they are used and who uses them, and indeed the authority of individuals and of social roles seem to emerge from the same processes. The dynamics of different sorts of interplay between mythology, discourse and authority are fascinating and they connect in various ways with many areas of cultural research. As a consequence, it is of great benefit for a scholar to develop a nuanced understanding of how these phenomena interact and can be mobilized in social life, and how different types of data may reflect such processes.

“Mythology, Discourse, and Authority: Retrospective Methods in Cultural Research” combines a scientific symposium with a workshop for doctoral and advanced MA students. The event is organized by the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore, University of Tartu, and Graduate School of Culture Studies and Arts (GSCSA), and the Department of Folklore Studies, University of Helsinki.

This two-day event is organized around lectures by six plenary speakers:

Yuri Berezkin (European University at St. Petersburg)
Matthias Egeler (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich)
Frog (University of Helsinki)
Leszek Gardeła (University of Rzeszów)
Daniel Sävborg (University of Tartu)
Ülo Valk (University of Tartu)


November 22
Jakobi 2-114

9.30 Opening

9.40 Yuri Berezkin: “Myths” and “Tales”: Tools for Reconstruction of Deep and of the Not So Deep Prehistory

10.40 Joonas Ahola: Myth, Language, Origin: 19th Century Mythology Studies in Germany and Finland

11.10 coffee break

11.30 Matthias Egeler: The Memory of Landscape: Place Lore and its Problems for Retrospective Approaches on the Example of Eyrbyggja saga

12.30 Daniel Sävborg: Encounters with Supernatural Beings in Popular and Learned Discourse: Examples from Early Modern Sweden and Medieval Iceland

13.30 lunch
Ülikooli 20 (Ülikooli Kohvik)

14.45 Workshop with Yuri Berezkin

15.30 Workshop with Matthias Egeler

16.15 Coffee break

16.30 Workshop with Daniel Sävborg

17.15 Maarit Tevanlinna-Alvarez: The Meaning of the Knowing Cobra (discussion of a folk narrative from South Africa)

18.00 Reception
Ülikooli 20 (Ülikooli Kohvik)
November 23
Ülikooli 18-204

9.30 Frog: Dynamics of Authority between Mythology, Verbal Art and the People who Use Them

10.30 Leszek Gardela: Hunting for Vampires in Polish Folklore and Archaeology: The Problems and Possibilities of Retrospective Studies

11.30 Coffee break

12.00 Ülo Valk: The Devil and the Spirit World in Nineteenth-Century Estonia: From Christianization to Folklorization

13.00 Lunch
Ülikooli 20 (Ülikooli Kohvik)

14.15 Workshop with Frog

15.00 Workshop with Leszek Gardela

15.45 Coffee break

16.15 Workshop with Ülo Valk

17.00 Final discussion

Requirements for participation

The plenary lectures and the symposium sessions will be open to the public.
Participants wishing to present and discuss their own work will have that opportunity in open sessions, but such presentations are not required. A series of closed workshop sessions are organized to help participants to deepen and refine their understandings of these topics through concentrated discussion.

We welcome participants from across disciplines at PhD and MA levels of study. Those interested can apply by e-mail by writing to Monika Tasa ( If you would like to give a presentation at the scientific symposium (20 min. followed by 10 min. discussion), please also include a presentation title and 300-word abstract. The deadline for applications is Oct 3rd, 2016. You will be notified by Oct 14th, 2016 if we can include your paper in the symposium program.

Students who are not members of University of Tartu graduate schools are required to add a short CV to specify their education and research interests.

Reading material for the workshops will be made available for the registered participants by November 7th, 2016.

The working language of the seminar is English.
2 ECTS points will be awarded for full participation in the program, including the symposium and the workshop.

Participation is free of charge; accommodation and travel costs of the students of GSCSA will be reimbursed.
The symposium and the workshop is supported by the (European Union) European Regional Development Fund (University of Tartu’s ASTRA project, PER ASPERA) and the Academy of Finland project “Mythology, Verbal Art and Authority in Social Impact” (Folklore Studies, University of Helsinki).