WES 100: Myths, Rituals, & the Sacred

Course Description

The Wesleyan Seminars are an immersion into liberal arts education. Within the seminars, students will learn how to identify complex problems and issues, consult expert sources, question assumptions, consider disparate points of view, develop complex personal positions, and present conclusions. The three seminars are progressively more sophisticated in their approach and expectations.

Seminars are not merely places where knowledge is imparted, but where it is exchanged and created. To successfully complete a seminar, you need to engage actively with the course material, professor, and your classmates. As a community of learners, we will work together to explore and consider our topic from a number of different perspectives. Each person’s participation is crucial.

This course is designed to investigate the role of myths and rituals in our lives. We will explore all forms of myths, from the well-known stories of ancient cultures to the contemporary tales we see acted out on television or in movies. Likewise, we will examine all types of rituals, from those used by religions around the world to those used by people in seemingly non-religious situations (such as sports and politics). We will consider what they have in common, how they function to create meaning and significance, and what they say about those who tell them, perform them, or just consider them important in their lives.


By the end of the semester, you should:

  • Be familiar with the concepts “myth” and “ritual”;
  • Have a basic vocabulary for the reading, interpreting, and evaluating of myth and ritual; and
  • Be able to decipher the presence and role of myths and rituals in everyday human behavior.

Because this course is being taught as a WES100 course, you are also the Association of American Colleges & Universities [AAC&U] milestone level 2 standards:

  • “Issue / problem to be considered critically is stated [by you] but description may leave some terms undefined, ambiguities unexplored, boundaries undetermined, and/or backgrounds unknown”;
  • “Information is taken [by you] from source(s) with some interpretation / evaluation, but may not be enough to develop a coherent analysis or synthesis. Viewpoints of experts are taken [by you] as mostly fact, with at least minimal questioning”;
  • [Your work] “[q]uestions some assumptions. Identifies several relevant contexts when presenting a position. [You] [m]ay be more of others’ assumptions than one’s own (or vice versa)”;
  • [Your] “[s]pecific position (perspective, thesis / hypothesis) acknowledges different sides of an issue”; and
  • [Your] “[c]onclusion is logically tied to information (because information is chosen to fit the desired conclusion); some related outcomes (consequences and implications) are identified clearly.”

Texts & Readings

The following texts are available at the VWU bookstore. You are free to purchase them elsewhere, but you should check with me to be certain you are purchasing the proper edition(s).

In addition, readings and videos are linked to the class Web site; others may be distributed in class during the semester.


Responsibilities & Evaluation

Class Participation (20 points)

You are expected to attend all scheduled classes and complete all assignments. In addition, you are expected to participate fully in regular discussions, and engage the materials in class. Regular and thoughtful participation in class, as well as enthusiastic participation in the assignments, will be rewarded in this category. Mindless blather will not.

Myth & Ritual Project (80 points TOTAL)

PART I: Creating & Critiquing a Myth (20 points)

For “Part I,” you will create your own myth, using any of the criteria we develop during class discussions. You will write a paper (at least 4 pages long, double-spaced, 12-point font, 1 inch x 1 inch margins) in which you do describe the myth in detail, AND in which you critique the myth based on our readings and class discussions.

PART II: Creating & Critiquing a Ritual (20 points)

For “Part II,” you will create a ritual to accompany your myth, using any of the criteria we develop during class discussions. You will write a paper (at least 4 pages long, double-spaced, 12-point font, 1 inch x 1 inch margins) in which you do describe the ritual in detail, AND in which you critique the ritual based on our readings and class discussions.

PART III: Presentations (10 points)

For “Part III,” you will present your myth /ritual to the class; the detail of the myth may be contained in a handout or PowerPoint presentation, but the overall presentation will be oral, and the ritual must be acted out.

PART IV: Final Paper (30 points)

For “Part IV,” you will submit a paper on your myth / ritual that is an explanation of each as well as their relationship to each other. You will also provide a critique / analysis of the myth / ritual based on our readings and class discussions, as well as the feedback you received from Parts I, II, and III. The paper must be at least 10 pages long (including notes / references), double-spaced, in 12-point font, with 1 inch x 1 inch margins.

THERE IS NO FINAL EXAM IN THIS CLASS. However we will meet on the date / time that has been reserved for this class by the Registrar (see “Schedule of Readings & Assignments” for actual date / time). On that date / time, you will submit the final written version of your “Myth & Ritual Project.”

You will be evaluated not only in how well you have developed an argument (with a thesis, evidence, and conclusion based on that evidence), explored and evaluated primary and secondary sources, and utilized methods explored in class and in the readings, but also in how well you have incorporated the comments and suggestions provided by me (to the draft) and by your classmates (during the presentation). The final paper must be at least 2500 words.

This final written assignment will serve as an artifact that can be assessed at a later date. It therefore needs to demonstrate your engagement with the Wesleyan Seminar objectives. (Please see criteria, above). More on this as the semester progresses.

Schedule of Readings & Assignments

Classroom Policies