Crossing fairy tales
On Wednesday, Sept. 12, students, faculty and members of the community gathered in Ostrove Auditorium to hear University of Chicago Professor Wendy Doniger give a lecture titled “Comic Folktales about Clever Women and Magic Ring.”
The lecture, made possible through the Compagna-Sennett Religious Studies endowment, was part of this year’s humanities theme, “Comedy, Seriously.” The annual humanities theme fosters interdisciplinary discussion across campus and represents a trademark of liberal arts education.
Chair and Crawford Family Professor of Religion Nikky Singh introduced Doniger and her academic résumé. Doniger holds two doctorates, one from Oxford and one from Harvard, and is a well-known scholar of comparative religion and Hinduism. She has written over 30 books and is particularly known for her translations.
“In our dangerously divided polarized world, Wendy’s scholarship is desperately needed. Her intellectual pluralism creates platforms of understanding. Her cross-cultural, cross-temporal insight inspires a sense of shared humanity. I’m proud and honored to have Wendy visit us,” Singh said.
Singh shared that it was her dream to bring Doniger to the College, as Singh sees Doniger as “the foremost scholar in Asian studies and interpretive mythology.” Singh admires Doniger for her beautifully rare combination of “intellectual brilliance and personal warmth.”
After an awe-inspiring introduction, Doniger sat down at a simple wooden table, setting the stage for an evening of storytelling and comparative analysis.
Doniger’s focused on a particular plot that shows up in stories from Hindu mythology to Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The shared plot element involves a man and woman who have a child and, in order to prove the man’s paternity, the woman shows him the same ring she was wearing when they first met.
Doniger examined the comedic aspects of different variations of this story and encouraged the audience to “think of [the stories] like a Lego set: it’s the same pieces, but they’re arranged differently.”
According to Singh, different versions of the same basic story share themes like “identity, sexuality, fidelity: this basic narrative is global.…Myths are like food for the individual and collective identity.”
Doniger’s lecture gave an interesting introduction to comparative religion through comedy. The next installments of the “Comedy, Seriously” program can be found at colby.edu/comedy.