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Sarah Iles Johnston

Sarah Iles Johnston photo April 2021, taken by Kate Sweeney

Sarah Iles Johnston

College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Religion


(614) 292-2058

424 University Hall
230 North Oval Mall
Columbus, OH, 43210

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Areas of Expertise

  • Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean
  • Myths
  • Comparative Study of Religions and Myths
  • Archaic Greek Poetry
  • Narratology
  • Modern Supernatural Horror Fiction


  • Ph.D. Cornell 1987
  • M.A. Cornell 1983
  • B.A. (Classics) Univ. Kansas 1980
  • B.S. (Journalism) Univ. Kansas 1979

Personal Statement

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 new book, Gods and Mortals: Ancient Greek Myths for Modern Readers (Princeton 2023) puts to use what I learned by writing The Story of Myth.  There, I aimed to retell Greek myths in a way that would engage modern audiences while nonetheless remaining true to ancient versions.  Check my personal website for virtual events connected with Gods and Mortals.

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 supernatural 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.

Contrary to rumor, I am not retiring!




Gods and Mortals cover
Picture of book cover The Story of Myth

Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets

Ancient Greek Divination

Restless Dead: Encounters between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece

Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekate's Roles in the Chaldean Oracles and Related Literature

Edited Volumes

Ancient Religions

Mantike: Studies in Ancient Divination


Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy, and Art

Recent Articles


•"The Religious Affordance of Supernatural Horror Fiction,"  Numen 70 (2023) 113-137.

•"Here Lies Hecate: Poetry and Immortality in 2nd-Century Mesembria," Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 24 (2022) 305-18.

•"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.