Myths of origin – how might we understand their power, problems and creative potential?
An open public cultural exploration of ‘myths of origin‘ with institutions, communities and schools across South Wales in conjunction with an academic conference in Llantwit Major (12th – 14th October 2022) with The New Library at Llantwit Major, Bath Spa University, Cardiff University and Cambridge University Centre for the Study of Platonism.
- you are invited to take part in an exploration about ‘myths of origin’ and justice
- it’s happening in South Wales this summer and autumn
- it will include well-being, public life, education, climate change, media, politics, faith
- it’s brought to you by the cultural charity Coleridge Cymru
- it’s a fresh approach
What’s happening and why
We’re exploring a fresh approach, in the contemporary log-jams of public life, using a philosophy of culture to find a way of strengthening and improving our public life; looking at ‘myths of origin‘ and justice.
‘Myths of origin’ are stories and narratives about what we are and where we come from. They come in many shapes and sizes. From these narratives we build expectations and culture. They are deeply entwined in many aspects of our human identities. ‘Myths of origin‘ have the capacity to underpin our human flourishing – and they also have potential to unleash the most unpleasant and cruelest of human destruction. The philosopher Paul Tillich (1886-1965) was thrown out of Nazi Germany in 1933 for writing an incisive book exposing the destructive power of ‘myths of origin’. The book wasn’t translated into English until 1977 and is not widely known in Britain. It begins with a ten page introduction entitled: The Two Roots of Political Thinking. We’re going to explore this in Wales.
Clearly and brilliantly set out by Tillich are philosophical roots of fascism and the offer and problems of ‘myths of origin’ for human society. He also outlines the the education and commitment needed to transform the destructive forces in our individual and common life. Before any political or societal thought can begin, Tillich says, a preliminary question must be explored: ‘what does it mean to be human?’
In finding ourselves as humans there is, he outlines, a deep tension between what we actually are, and what we ought to be. He shows how our narratives and stories about ‘where we come from’ and ‘what we think we are’ practically link to the ways in which individuals and groups behave and operate in the world. Such narratives and stories become our ‘myths of origin‘. They present themselves in many ways – our nationalities, identities, friendship groups, education, work, political outlook, sense of purpose, sense of belonging, character traits, family backgrounds, religious culture, property, travels… the list continues. In many profound ways our ‘identities’ are made up of the narratives of ‘where we come from’ and ‘what we have done’. These narratives produce securities for us and they also encourage in us certain senses of entitlements to behave and act in ways that reflect these ‘myths of origin‘.
He points out that the world isn’t big enough to contain all the entitlements generated by our ‘myths of origin’. Consequently our entitlements and appetites often come into conflict with those of others. The great human task is to recognise and explore our narratives of ‘where we have come from’, and then seriously engage with other parties, people, communities and societies, often relinquishing our senses of entitlement, so that justice is prioritised in life and in the world.
Tillich finishes by saying that ‘where we are going to’, and an awareness of a decision to act for justice, is ultimately more important than ‘where we have come from’. This is, he says, what it means to be human.
Tillich was one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. Some of the great human civilizations of the world have understood and held this central quality and idea of being human. This style of thinking and talking is not very common in contemporary British public life, and yet it quietly speaks in Wales, so the coming conference and cultural exploration will provide an opportunity to see how this great stream of human thought and experience chimes widely with Welsh life today and those traditions that underpin it.
We invite you to take part in a Welsh cultural exploration uncovering possibilities for radical and deeply human changes for future generations.
In exploring some of these themes above we’re seeking and offering discussions and exploratory work with partner communities and organisations across some of the following areas:
Public life and our myths of origin
Our national, regional, local and personal myths of origin shape our identities as individuals and communities. They contribute to our sense of place and our wellbeing? How do we navigate our identities and circumstances if we suspect our personal, communal or public sense of place and well-being is less than healthy for us? How can we explore myths of origin healthily in the public realm?
Mental health, well-being and our myths of origin
The American psychologist Carl Rogers was responsible for establishing the 20th century counselling movement and establishing the principles of person-centred education. Carl Rogers was in deep dialogue with Paul Tillich about the possibility of human transformation. How is the fundamental and enduring person-centred work of Carl Rogers held and celebrated in education and public life in Wales today? How can Rogers’ approach further help to transform our society healthily with justice, and help us to explore differing myths of origin?
Living in the natural world – as creative humans
The climate emergency means changes – big changes – for the ways in which we think about and live human life. The Welsh Government’s The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act is world-leading climate change legislation. And our whole society needs to act. How do the stories we tell ourselves about ‘what it means to be human‘ help us to navigate towards inevitable new carbon zero economies and ways of living? What myths of origin and senses of entitlement in our human culture are holding us back? Where in our culture and identities might we encounter the decision to adapt and change. How can we navigate healthy towards change and transformation? How can we strengthen our appetites for climate justice?
Learning, school and education: transforming myths of origin
Our children come together daily at school from differing backgrounds, households, cultures, outlooks and aspirations – our schools receive all these children with the vision of enabling all children to discover new opportunities in the world – opportunities which are bigger and greater than the places they have come from. Our child-centred education in Wales is at the centre of justice for all our citizens – it is the life, health and well-being of our future generations. What understandings do we need of myths of origin and leadership around the term ‘child-centred’ to help our school and education providers maximise opportunities to help all our children flourish healthily in our complex and disputatious world? How can children best explore the dynamics, problems and offers of ‘myths of origin‘? Read more….
Politics and the myth of origin
What conflicting and creative myths of origin underpin the different political traditions in Wales – and what can the conservative, socialist, liberal, green and nationalist traditions contribute and learn from open discussions about their differing myths of origin? How can the public offer and delivery of politics be improved through such exploration and dialogue?
Faith traditions – and being human
The world faith traditions engage seriously and deeply with stories of origin, transformation, community and justice. Tillich was one of the 20th century’s great theologians and philosophers of culture, and made early pioneering explorations in inter-faith dialogue. What insights do Wales’ faith traditions have to contribute to this conversation and to their own developments?
Media, culture and thought
In a culture myths of origin are very subtle and powerful forces for both cohesion and destruction. In what ways do those who provide and manage our media, news, entertainment and culture understand the profound ways in which human flourishing in Wales is retarded or nourished by assumptions, broadcasts, projects and products that implicitly carry material and thought that is connected to myths of origin? In the light of the creative and destructive power of myths of origin what is the function, if any, of artists, theatre and poetry? What are the stories that media, broadcasters, managers and marketing departments tell themselves about their own role in our economy and culture – what are the industry’s myths of origin? How does Paul Tillich’s analysis help everyone in society to imagine and support healthier culture, communication and public life?
If your institution, organisation, community or business would like to respond, ask questions, take part or explore how these themes are held in Welsh life please get in touch. You are warmly invited to join this discussion and help us to create this open and engaging cultural exploration for October 2022.
You can phone Richard Parry from Coleridge Cymru on 07974 397771 – Richard will be happy to chat – or email us at waverleymusic @ live.co.uk
Your questions, puzzling, ideas and suggestions will very much shape the cultural exploration. We look forward to the coming conversations
Any academics wishing to be involved in the parallel academic conference in October can find details of how to get involved here: Paul Tillich Today: The Two Roots of Political Thinking (introduction)
(illustration: Chris Glynn)