The superconcept of fiction with an anthropological perspective taking the example of the role of myths and religion
Alan Wilson (2010) describes concepts as elements to understand one’s surroundings. For instance, the superconcept of fiction, which initially developed in social sciences, is found in sciences in the form of models, which are, themselves, helping scientists to understand how things work. Aristotle (Wilson, 2017) perceived fiction as “a way of creating representations of possible realities”. Indeed, a story with the same characters could have different endings depending on what the writer wants to do. What we read is just one of the outcome the story could have taken. Myths and religion are a sort of fiction, as they are a creation that represents our actions and their consequences. Myths (Murfin, Ray, 2003), originally meaning “story” or “plot” in Ancient Greek, reflect how people relate to one another in everyday life and reveal the meanings and importance of some religions and practices. To what extent does the superconcept of fiction allow us to understand the role of myths and religion within societies, taking an anthropological perspective, and what they provide to groups of people? Firstly I will focus on religion and myths as a sort of fiction that function as a model for some groups of people. Then, I will argue that myths and religious beliefs evolve in symbiosis with the evolution of groups of people themselves. At last, I will state that myths and religions are complex because one’s choose to believe them or not because of the accuracy of the facts.
In some groups of people, religion and myths are a form of fiction that function as a model and provide a way of functioning within the society. A work of fiction creates a model of a kind of world (Wilson, 2017). Thereby, myths are a sort of fiction that actually matter in everyone’s life (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2014). Indeed, myths are known by everyone, even though each culture has their own stories. Myths are specific to each group of people and represent an heritage of the past cultures. It is the God of Thunder Thor and his brother Loki for the Nordics, it is Zeus and Poseidon and all the other gods for the Greeks, it is Osiris for the Egyptians and so on. Myths are a part of everyone’s legacy. It is just the same with religion. Religions are known by everyone. That is why religions and myths function as a role model for some groups of people. For instance, in most of nowadays societies, each regime or government is based on strict laws concerning some actions. Homicide is punished by laws but merely because killing someone is not right. Why is that? It could be because of the 10 Commandments and their consequences. In these Commandments, God forbade humans to commit killing. “You shall not murder” (The Bible, Exodus. 20:13). Nowadays, killing is something morally and legally punished. Is it because this Commandment offered a way of behaving, setting what was right or wrong? Furthermore, it is written in the Bible that humans should not feed on one another (The Bible, Genesis. 9:6). In Ducournau’s drama and horror movie (Grave, 2016), two sisters studying medicines started to feed on humans. Throughout the film, we see the evolution of Justine who follows her sister’s steps as she starts to be obsessed with meat and discovers her inner self. The movie received bad criticism as it is a touchy subject and a really difficult film to watch. The movie denatures humans and make them look like beasts. However, this reaction is the one of people, who were taught in thinking and feeling that cannibalism is not right. But in some tribes, like the Korowai, cannibalism is a part of the traditions and customs. It is not legally or morally punished but just considered normal (Rose, 2014). That is a clear example of how religion functions as a model for groups of people, as different groups of people, under the footprint of different beliefs, behave in a different way. In addition to that, Carl Jung suggested that mythical stories and religion connected individuals and societies with the “collective unconscious” (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2014). Built on the work of Jung, Joseph Campbell said that myths have an important function in society in four ways: “it evokes a sense of awe, it supports a religious cosmology, it supports the social order and it introduces individuals to the spiritual path of enlightenment.”(Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2014). It means that myths offer something to look up to, something to follow, a way of behaving such as a guideline or a path. Indeed, some very famous heroes are inspired by this very theory of Joseph Campbell such as Luke Skywalker. George Lucas wanted to create a “myth for modern man” in Star Wars (Myint, 2015). In that way, myths is more than omnipresent in modern society through popular culture. Myths transcend cultural divides and communicate universal values, such as the fight between the Light and the Dark Side. Myths constitute models for groups of people as they show how to behave. However, do people always behave in such a rationally structured way in real life? Do people are always fighting evil and acting good?
Throughout the time, individuals within groups of people evolve. The interpretation of religions and myths is linked to the way society is at a precise time. The evolution of groups of people involves the evolution of the interpretation of religions and myths. Therefore, the religious model can be used inappropriately. For instance, what about extenuating circumstances when committing a crime? Of course, it is not right and not legal to kill someone as it is written in the Bible, but what about self-defense? Should someone, who was protecting themselves, be as guilty as someone, who was intentional? The way we rely on religions and myths is evolving with the way society and groups of people work. For instance, how do we understand and put into practice religious interdicts nowadays? Taking the example of Muslims and Jews, what lies behind the interdict of eating pork? (The Bible, Genesis. 9:4) (The Holy Quran, 5:3) Nowadays, some religious people would not eat candies or dishes that contain gelatine of pork. The reason why this interdict was, is because pork was not properly cooked and therefore causing diseases, it was dangerous to eat it (Stacey, 2009). Nowadays, some people would still not eat pork because it is tradition, however, because we have the means to cook pork properly, some people would argue that it is alright to eat it. In that case, religious practices evolve with the way society itself evolves. However, considering the fact that myths and religious practices evolve with societies, and therefore, have they been totally replaced by another sort of myths for some groups of people? In some societies, myths and religion have been replaced by scientific beliefs. For instance, the atheists. They believe in science and facts but not in God or other supernatural beings (Blackburn, 2008). Myths and religion are not a part of their lives as they have learned to believe scientific evidence. In addition to that, some groups of people create their own beliefs and practices, such as sects. The most famous one would be the Scientologist sect, which raises questions about its definition as a sect or a religion. Its principles and practices have been developed by L. Ron Hubbard in the United States in 1952. It was created under the beliefs that men were created to work on their spiritual salvation and to bring solutions to issues. This sect, or religion, did not come from a story of a group of people like the monotheist religions, but comes from a spiritual way of seeing the world and the place of humans in it. Some questions are raised about this way of thinking because it does not rely on facts or history or traditions, but just on ideas and perceptions (Kent, 1999). Therefore, some people would argue that the Scientology is not true. Furthermore, McKee (Wilson, 2017) stated that “Storytelling is the creative demonstration of truth”. It implies that storytelling or even stories, such as myths or religious myths, are based on truth or are used to show the truth.
Mostly, myths are considered as fairytales. In that way, myths and religions are complex because one’s choose to believe in them or not. However, myths and religion are inspired by truth and true facts. Even if myths are undeniably linked to the thought of something “that is not true”, the English word “myth” (Gale, 2005) comes from the greek “muthos”, which means “word” or “speech”. In definition, a myth is “an expression of the sacred in words” that leads to a discussion or an argument. Furthermore, most of the times, we think of something fictional when it is untrue, but not everything untrue is fictional. Indeed, the accuracy of the facts is important to fiction. In fact, every fiction is inspired by something true or something reliable. In novels, it could be characters inspired by true personage or events inspired by true facts. In scientific models, it would be facts and consequences. For instance, the myth of Icarus (Sailors, 2007) is itself inspired by something true. Locked away, Icarus managed to escape, with his father Daedalus, by creating wings with feathers and wax. However, not listening to his father’s warnings when flying away, Icarus came to close to the sun, and because of that, the wax of his wings melted. His wings were destroyed and Icarus fell to death, in front of his father’s eyes, unable to help him. Even though the religious morality of this myth is that no one should try to come too close to God or defy the natural order of things, which is that men can’t fly, the myth himself relies on the fact that the sun is burning and hot and that, when too close from it, everything in its surrounding will melt or burn. This fact is common knowledge and a scientific point. Indeed, one of the functions of mythology is “to explain the unexplainable” or to “make sense out of the world around them” (Sailors, 2007, p.17). For instance, the story of Persephone and Demeter is a clear illustration of that attempt to understand the world surrounding the Greek Society. Demeter, goddess of the cornfield, had a daughter, Persephone. Hades fell in love with her and took her with him. Blinded by sorrow and grief, Demeter swore that the earth would bear no fruit until she had her daughter back. Zeus tried to intervene, but because Persephone had eaten the fruit of the dead, while she was in Hell, she had to stay there and could not go back to earth. However, a compromise was reached where Persephone would stay three months with Hades and nine months with her mother each year. Demeter never lifted her curse while her daughter was away. Therefore, during three months nothing grew on earth, that is, during winter (Graves, 1955). This myth is a clear explanation of the pre-scientific attempt of the Greek to understand why the world works this way, and in that particular case, how the seasons work. In that case, myths are a way to put an explanation on something not understandable at a time.
In fine, it is obvious that myths and religion are undeniably a part of the life of groups of people, whether it is a model or a guideline or even something that brings everyone together. In addition to that, this kind of fiction that are myths and religion, allow groups of people to understand their origins and the world around them. Myths are a way of interpreting one’s surroundings. In a way, the idea of what artists or writers tend to attempt when writing a piece of fiction is similar to what scientist aims to do. Both want to explain what they observe to come up with a clear explanation. A good story helps us contemplate the situation and what to do about it in a more perspicacious way, just like scientists when analyzing a problem. Fiction helps us having a truthful image of humans and the world we live in.
-Blackburn, S., 2008. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
-Gale. 2005. Encyclopedia of Religion. 2nd Ed. USA: Macmillan Reference USA.
-Grave, 2016. film Directed by Julia Ducournau. France: Petit Film, Rouge International, Frakas Productions.
-Graves, R., 1955. The Greek Myths. New York: Penguin Books.
-Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2014. Intercollegiate Review: Why Myth Matters online Available at:
-Kent, S., 1999. Scientology, Is this a Religion?. Marburg Journal of Religion, 4(1), pp.1-23.
-Murfin, R., Ray, S., 2003. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford-St. Martin’s.
-Myint, B., 2015. George Lucas and the Origin Story behind ‘Star Wars’. Biography. e-journal Abstract only. Available through:
-Rose, G., 2014. Meeting the Cannibal Tribes of Indonesian New Guinea. Vice. e-journal Abstract only. Available through:
-Sailors, C., 2007. The Function of Mythology and Religion in Ancient Greek Society. e-book East Tennessee: Digital Commons @East Tennessee State University. Available at: School of graduate Studies
-Stacey, A., Why Pork is forbidden in Islam: obeying the laws of God. The Religion of Islam. e-journal Abstract only. Available through:
-The Bible: Contemporary English Version, 2000. London: HarperCollins.
-The Holy Quran. 2004. London: Islam International Publications.
-Wilson, A., 2010. Knowledge Power: Interdisciplinary Education for a Complex World. London: Routledge.
-Wilson, J., 2017. Fiction and Reality. BASC1001 Approaches to Knowledge. online via internal VLE University Central London. Available at: