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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Another book about differences

A while back the folklorist Tok Thompson came to IU to give a couple of talks. He devoted one entirely to the book The Origin of the World's Mythologies by E.J. Michael Witzel. Thompson denounced it as a work of poor scholarship, of misguided ideas, and of racism. he reviewed the book for the Journal of Folklore Research Reviews. Here's the conclusion (spoiler alert, I guess):

To conclude: this book will no doubt prove exciting for the gullible and the racist, yet it is useless—and frustrating—for any serious scholar. This is a work which should never have reached book publication stage: a whole series of scholarly checks and balances—ranging from Harvard's venerable Folklore and Mythology Department, to the editors and reviewers at Oxford University Press—should have been in place to guide the scholarly inquiry, which would have prevented the socially irresponsible publication of such grandiose, brash, and explicitly racist claims based on ill-informed, highly problematic scholarship.

 I haven't read Witzel's book yet, but I intend to do so for this project. He lays out an argument that there are two large groups of people (Gondwana and Laurasia), and that they have differing mythologies. It's worth noting that the publisher is Oxford. Yes, the university. And Witzel teaches at Harvard.

Here's another, less critical review of the book. It was published by the Institute of social and cultural anthropology, at Oxford, for what it's worth. There's also something called the Laurasian Academy, with which Witzel is affiliated. More on this when I've had a chance to get through it. I just wanted to keep the links to these reviews handy.




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