Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) was the founder of structural anthropology, and is widely considered to be a foundational figure for modern anthropology. In books including Les Structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949, The Elementary Structures of Kinship), Tristes Tropiques (1955) and La Pensée sauvage (1962, The Savage Mind, 1966),...

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Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) was the founder of structural anthropology, and is widely considered to be a foundational figure for modern anthropology. In books including Les Structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949, The Elementary Structures of Kinship), Tristes Tropiques (1955) and La Pensée sauvage (1962, The Savage Mind, 1966), Levi-Strauss laid out the argument that the structures underlying both “civilised” and “primitive” societies are identical. However, his work has not been appreciated by Religious Studies scholars as much as it has by anthropologists.

Tremlett, Levi-Strauss on Religiontremlett

Here, David Robertson talks to Paul-Francois Tremlett of the Open University about Levi-Strauss’ legacy for the study of religion. As well as introducing a structuralism inherited from linguistics to the field, Tremlett argues that he also anticipates contemporary cognitive approaches. We discuss his notion of bricolage and how it affected Levi-Strauss’ analyses of mythology.

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This is the second episode on a series on early 20th century theorists of religion. The first featured Robert Segal on C. G. Jung; next week features Ivan Strenski on Durkheim.

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The Problem with Myth

"‘Levi-Strauss argues that what “we” in “the West” call history is in fact myth by another name’ (Tremlett, 2008:56). Conversely, what we call myth is also history. But if so, what difference is there in calling a story myth or history? If Evolution can be called both history and myth what differs between each usage? It is, I suggest, the fact that when we speak, for example, of the Evolution myth we think of something that is false-prone and when we speak of the Evolution theory (here a synonym for history) we think of it as true-prone. The question of which is used depends on who is speaking."

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