Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Wisdom of Crowds

This seminar will study the history and nature of myths—traditional as well as urban myths—particularly in regard to the way that myths, legends, and superstitions reflect the concerns and fears of all cultures. We will examine the ways in which each genre differs, and the means by which communities, seized with conviction for generations, disseminate and fortify them. The collective unconscious is often manifested in metaphor, particularly in literature and film, and the legitimate anxieties, fears (and guilt) that it reflects will be the subject of our study. We will discuss urban myths through history (witchcraft; alchemy and the philosopher’s stone; prophecies of the end of the world, conspiracies) as well as contemporary myths (post-truth beliefs), and the technological, religious and cultural shifts that cause them.

Students will read from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Uses of Enchantment, as well as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, White Noise, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Road. We will watch the films ‘Walkabout;’ ‘Moonlight;” ‘Let the Right One In;’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (Cocteau).


Application required. The application process for fall-term Freshman Seminars opens Wednesday, July 7 at 10:00 a.m. (EDT) and closes on Monday, July 19 at 12:00 noon (EDT). Apply for a Freshman Seminar




Wednesdays, 1:30-4:20 PM


Susanna Moore