Search for the Russian Soul: Slavic Mythology, Folktales and Magic

Spring 2021
Junior - Senior
Class Size: 25
12 Credits per quarter
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It is thought that the soul and national identity of a people is reflected in their traditional folklore. Come join us in a search for the Russian soul and identity as they resonate in ancient Slavic mythology, Russian folktales, epic and lyric songs, Slavic folk crafts, myth and magic practiced through the centuries, and in Russian formal culture. We will examine psychological approaches to folktale interpretation, including Freudian and Jungian, and also the pioneering work of Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp who uncovered the deep structure of folktales, revealing internal workings previously unacknowledged within the tales. Famous characters in Russian folklore, including the notorious Baba Yaga and the wise Vasilisa the Beautiful, lead us in our exploration of gender portrayal in the tales. Russian foodways in Russian daily life, as well as in fascinating “stovelore,” and a body of bawdy adult humor in the tales, add spice to our feast.

The larger world of myth in the folktales and epics, entailing among other components the hero’s/heroine’s journey as defined by Joseph Campbell and intersecting with our psychological scrutiny of these genres, will help guide our study. Listening to Russian folk music, as well as to Russian formal national music from the 19th and 20th centuries which applies folk elements that reflect the Russian soul and Russian history, will permit us to witness what Russians themselves have considered significant in connection with the expression of their identity. Russian folk art and formal Realist and Avant-garde art round out our examination of important folk elements in visual art. 

Our entire program will be conducted via Zoom, approximately one-third of the assigned work undertaken by students themselves outside of the Zoom classroom. Students will need laptops or other devices with which to join us and participate successfully in our work. A booklist will be sent to all registered students in order that they acquire their books on their own. All other readings will be posted at the program Canvas site. Students will submit weekly written commentaries on the readings, films, and documentaries. Through faculty and guest lectures and discussions, along with the reading of books, articles, folklore texts, and the production of a research project, students will acquire a profound understanding of the inner life of folklore, folk belief, and folk magic in general and in their particular Russian variant. The students’ research projects will be embedded in WordPress sites, and students will present their research to each other at the close of the term.

Expected Credit equivalencies:

4 - Russian History

4 - Russian Folklore

4 - Russian and Slavic Mythology


Spring 2021 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

Jr - Sr (12): 30243
Fr (12): 30246

Academic details

Preparatory For

Russian and Slavic Studies, Russian Cultural Studies, Russian History, Mythology Studies, Folklore Studies

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing


Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

DateRevision 2021-03-08 This program is now Junior-Senior level (was Fr-Sr)