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For Immediate Release
April 10, 2013

For more information, contact
David Mihalyov
(585) 395-2577
dmihalyo@brockport.edu

Different Cultures, Similar Stories

Scholars Day project looks at creation myths

Brockport, NY – Sometimes a direct line can be drawn connecting childhood interests to future academic studies. For Shauna Strnad ’13, an early fascination with mythological stories has brought her to present her research titled, “The Story of How the World Began: An Anthropological Analysis of Creation Mythology.”

A native of Hamburg, NY, Strnad, 21, is an Anthropology major who is also in the Honors program at Brockport. Her Scholars Day presentation will evolve into her Honors thesis.

Strnad began her presentation describing the differences between and the roles of myths, legends, folktales and fairy tales, and fables before moving into creation myths. While most cultures have a set of creation myths to explain such things as how the Earth was made and how humans came to exist, Strnad’s studies led her to wonder why it’s possible to find similar mythological stories in different cultures around the world, and throughout different time periods.

“I then decided to focus my research on creation myths since they describe the beginning of the universe, the Earth, the human race, and the beginning of the cultures themselves,” said Strnad. “Every culture has a different way of explaining creation as well as different ideas about how something was created.”

The cultural groups Strnad examined were the First Nations Peoples (Iroquois), Aztecs, Incans, Yoruba, Norse, Mesopotamians, Chinese, and Maori. These were intentionally chosen as Strnad wanted to compare cultures from each major geographic region of the world. Although the cultures are spread throughout the world and mythologies developed at different times, there are certain similarities between creation myths.

One of these similar themes is the universe beginning with sky or the heavens and water, which occurs in six of the eight cultures Strnad researched. Six of the eight also show that humans originated from either geologic or plant life.

Surprising differences Strnad found included three separate Chinese myths where other cultures had one, and multiple worlds created and destroyed in Aztec mythology. This last point was also surprising to Strnad because she would have thought myths from the Iroquois and Aztec cultures ultimately would have intersected geographically.

Strnad ended her presentation with a discussion of the function of myth in modern society. One reason she described is the effort to revert back to an ancestral way of writing.

“Although many of the myths I discussed were first presented orally, there is a certain stylistic structure to the way the story is conveyed,” she said. “Descendants within the culture as well as those that study mythologies, try to recapture this stylistic structure and with that some of the history of the culture itself.”

Finally, according to Strnad, myths are important as a source of entertainment, particularly in China and the United States. She gave an example that since 2000, at least 10 movies have been created in the US based on Greco-Roman mythology.

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