Sarah Iles Johnston
College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Religion
424 University Hall
230 North Oval Mall
Columbus, OH, 43210
Areas of Expertise
- Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean
- Comparative Study of Religions and Myths
- Archaic Greek Poetry
- Horror Fiction
- Ph.D. Cornell 1987
- M.A. Cornell 1983
- B.A. (Classics) Univ. Kansas 1980
- B.S. (Journalism) Univ. Kansas 1979
An interest that has run throughout my career is the question of how people come to hold the religious beliefs that they do. What makes us believe in God, or gods, or demons, or angels, or saints, or ghosts, or ifrits, or banshees or anything else? In recent years, I've focused particularly on how narratives create and sustain such beliefs and how they help to underwrite the rituals that accompany belief. My most recent scholarly book is The Story of Myth (2018), which uses approaches from folklore studies, narratology, media studies and the social sciences to better understand the ways in which myths, in the vivid forms in which they were narrated in ancient Greece, contributed to the creation and sustenance of belief in the ancient gods and heroes. My next book, Gods and Mortals: Ancient Greek Myths for Modern Readers (due out in late 2022) puts to use what I learned by writing The Story of Myth. There, I aim to retell Greek myths in a way that will engage modern audiences while nonetheless remaining true to ancient versions.
I'm now working on two projects. One is a book that looks at the reasons that audiences since the 1830s have had a seemingly endless appetite for horror stories, with particular attention to the ways in which these stories fulfill some of the same functions as religions do—and especially to the ways in which they support or challenge belief in supernatural entities. The other is a book that looks at the reasons that ancient myths still fascinate us and the ways in which they continue to do important ideological work.
•"The Religious Affordance of Supernatural Horror Fiction," forthcoming in Numen.
•"Here Lies Hecate: Poetry and Immortality in 2nd-Century Mesembria," forthcoming in Archiv für Religionsgeschichte.
•"Ancient Greek Tales of the Afterlife," in David Saunders, ed., Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife in Ancient Greek Vase Painting (Getty Museum: 2021).
•"Theurgy," in Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic, ed. David T. Frankfurter (Brill 2019).
•“Many (Un)Happy Returns: Ancient Greek Concepts of a Return from Death and their Later Counterparts," in Round Trip to Hades in the Eastern Mediterranean Tradition, eds. Gunnel Ekroth and Ingela Nilsson (Brill 2018) 356-69.
•"The Comparative Approach," in A Handbook to the Reception of Classical Myth, eds. Vanda Zajko and Helen Hoyle (Wiley-Blackwell 2017) 139-52.
Sarah Iles Johnston