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
  • 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 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. I've just sent to press Gods and Mortals: Ancient Greek Myths for Modern Readers, which puts to use some of what I learned by writing The Story of Myth to re-narrate 140 Greek myths for 21st-century adults.   I've striven to tell the myths to my modern readers with at least some of the same verve and liveliness that ancient authors told them to their own audiences, while nonetheless remaining true and accurate to those ancient versions.  I'm now working on a book that looks at the reasons that audiences in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries 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.


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


•"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 Full CV.pdf