Slavic 147A: East Slavic Folklore

MWF 1-2, VLSB 2032. Instructor: Jennifer Flaherty.

Units: 4 Satisfies L&S Arts & Literature or Social & Behavioral Sciences breadth requirement.

In this course, students will be introduced to Russian folklore as a complex set of cultural practices and art forms in a variety of genres, from legends to rituals, incantations, tales, ballads, epic poetry, and the shifting mythologies and beliefs that underlie them. They will consider some of the most foundational questions of humanistic scholarship, including what it means to interpret culture and reflect on ourselves in the process.

In the process of becoming familiar with ancient and enduring Slavic belief systems and the art forms that express them, students will learn to reconsider familiar distinctions between primitive and progressive, religion and science, traditional and modern. They will also acquire critical skills in interpreting texts through sustained study of folklore genres, the apparent simplicity of which belies much richness and complexity. Students will gain skills in comparative interpretation through discussions of the relationship between folklore and popular culture across different media (film, painting, music) as well as folklore and literature. Tracing the influence and continuing presence of folklore in modern life, students will be introduced to aspects of Soviet-era culture as well as post-Soviet culture in contemporary Russia.

We will read: 1) the best-known Russian folktales, 2) traditional songs and heroic epics, 3) scholarly works representing different systems of interpretations (formalist, feminist, psychoanalytic, and Marxist) and important works of cultural criticism, and 4) literary imitations of folklore. We will also study: 1) Soviet-era and contemporary films, 2) clips from operas and ballets, 3) paintings.

Part I of the course focuses on magical practices, religious figures, and spirits, including vampires and mermaids. Part II focuses on the three major folk genres: tale, lyric, and epic. Part III discusses folklore in relation to other art forms. Part IV looks at mass media, popular culture, and the politicization of folklore.



Texts for Purchase:

Linda Ivanits, Russian Folk Belief

Alexander Afanas’ev, Russian Fairy Tales

Vladimir Propp, Morphology of the Folktale


*Other texts will be available in course pack or put on reserve