Robert Segal *84 is a mythic figure.
Long-term IAJS member receives global praise and his own festschrift
He holds the chair in religious studies at Aberdeen University and is one of the world’s leading experts on myth and religion. His focus for the past 40 years has concerned myth as a category of human expression — not the analysis of one myth or set of myths.
“It is the explanation of the category that grabs me. There is no one answer. There are as many answers as there are theories of myth,” he says. “The origin and function of a myth are flip sides of the same coin. Both fulfill a need. The need is what keeps myth going for as long as myth lasts and may be as old as humanity.”
Segal has been “a force to reckon with” in religious studies, according to Thomas Ryba, the director of religious studies at Purdue University. “He has shaped how religionists think about meaning, interpretation, explanation, reduction, theory, and myth.”
His peers honored him last year with a festschrift, or celebration writing. Titled Explaining, Interpreting, and Theorizing Religion and Myth: Contributions in Honor of Robert A. Segal, this anthology of essays by 19 scholars addresses questions Segal has raised about how to approach myth and religion as academic categories. The book’s five sections cover hero myths, myth and science, politics, the physical world, and psychoanalysis.
Robert A. Segal is Professor and Sixth Century Chair in Religious Studies at the University of Aberdeen, U.K.
Since March 2019, he is a Professorial Research Fellow at the Department of Religious Studies, University of Vienna. Previously (1999–2006) he was Professor of Theories of Religion at Lancaster University, where he taught for twelve years. He holds a B.A. in Religious Studies (Wesleyan University, 1970) as well as an M.A. (1974) and a Ph.D. (1983) in Religion (both from Princeton University). Before coming to the U.K. in 1994, he taught at Reed College, the University of Toronto, Stanford University, the University of Pittsburgh, Louisiana State University, and Tulane University. He has received grants from the American Philosophical Society, the British Academy, the Carnegie Trust, as well as the prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. He is the author of The Poimandres as Myth: Scholarly Theory and Gnostic Meaning (De Gruyter, 1986), Religion and the Social Sciences: Essays on the Confrontation (Scholars Press, 1989), Joseph Campbell: An Introduction (Garland, 1987), Explaining and Interpreting Religion: Essays on the Issue (Peter Lang, 1992), Theorizing About Myth (University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), and Myth: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2004; 2nd ed. 2015). He is also the editor of more than fifteen works, including The Blackwell Companion to the Study of Religion (Blackwell, 2006) and the three-volume Vocabulary for the Study of Religion (co-edited with Kocku von Stuckrad; Brill, 2015). While at the Department in the 2018/19 winter semester, Professor Segal co-ordinated a course on “Myth.”