American Myths Symposia 2015-2016

The 1872 portrait of the goddess Columbia.

The 1872 John Gast painting “American Progress.” The female figure is the goddess Columbia, a representation of the United States.

I am in the process of organizing three public forums in Philadelphia on the theme of “American Myths.” I am looking for scholars and community leaders to participate. Please share your suggestions! The tentative topics and schedule is a follows:

Description: The American Myths Symposia is a series of three public discussions on the theme of American myths. Although the term myth is often used interchangeably with “lie,” in another sense, myths are stories that help societies to express their values, fears, and aspirations. This series centers on three myths relating to: the meaning the nation’s origins, the relationship between church and the state, and an explanation for the wealth gap between rich and poor.Audience: although many of the presenters will be scholars, they will be speaking to a broad audience. A special effort will be made to invite local college and seminary students.

#1 Myth of Discovery: Re-Thinking the Meaning of Columbus

  • Wednesday, October 7  – 6:00 to 8:00 pm
Description: Why are so many in the U.S. preoccupied with the notion that America was discovered? Columbus’s exploration of the Caribbean is often understand as discovering a “New World.” The world was certainly not new to the millions of people lived in North America for tens of thousands of years prior to 1492. Columbus’s arrival initiated immense suffering to Native people and their population was quickly decimated due to disease, war, and enslavement. White Americans have long had peculiar notions about what happened in North America prior to Columbus. The quest to find evidence of Vikings, lost tribes of Israel, ancient Egyptians, etc., exemplify that many American are only interested in pre-Columbian history if it involves non-indigenous people.

How you can help: the October 7 event is confirmed, but we need presenters to address some of the following questions and themes:

  1. Why are white Americans so obsessed with the notion of discovery?
  2. Can Columbus be replaced with a better exemplar of Italian American identity?
  3. What has been the impact of Columbus on North America’s first inhabitants and how does the celebration of Columbus Day continue to hurt Native Americans?

#2 Myth of a Christian Nation

  • Wednesday, February 3  – 6:00 to 8:00 pm
  • Speakers can address legal, cultural, and historical themes. Other ideas?

#3 Myth of the American Dream

  • Wednesday, April 20  – 6:00 to 8:00 pm
  • Speakers could address topics like the prosperity gospel, the economics of class, economic justice, etc. Other ideas?
I had also considered a theme on racial myths but I have not yet developed the idea fully. Other suggestions are welcome.

Location: the forums will be held at the Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is easily accessible by mass transit.

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