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Last updated:

November 19, 2022


Unlimited Duration


This course includes:

Unlimited Duration

Badge on Completion

Certificate of completion

Unlimited Duration


Human beings are symbol-making as well as tool-making animals.

We understand our world and shape our lives in large part by assigning meanings to objects, beings, and persons; by connecting things together in symbolic patterns; and by creating elaborate forms of symbolic action and narrative. In this introductory subject we consider how symbols are created and structured; how they draw on and give meaning to different domains of the human world; how they are woven into politics, family life, and the life cycle; and how we can interpret them.

The semester will be devoted to a number of topics in symbolism.

  1. Metaphor and Other Figurative Language
  2. The Raw Materials of Symbolism, especially Animals and The Human Body
  3. Cosmology and Complex Symbolic Systems
  4. Ritual, including Symbolic Curing and Magic
  5. Narrative and Life
  6. Mythology

Course Curriculum

  • Introduction Unlimited
  • Culture, Sign and Symbol Unlimited
  • Discuss Illness as Metaphor Unlimited
  • Metaphor and Other Tropes Unlimited
  • More Tropes Unlimited
  • Interpreting Metaphor Unlimited
  • Metaphorical Imperialism Unlimited
  • Animals Unlimited
  • Animals and Classification Unlimited
  • Roosters and Interpretation Unlimited
  • The Human Body Unlimited
  • More Bodies Unlimited
  • Classification and Cosmology Unlimited
  • Ritual Unlimited
  • Passage and Persuasion Unlimited
  • Ritual and Power Unlimited
  • Magic and Ritual Curing Unlimited
  • Narrative and Life Unlimited
  • Narrative and Control Unlimited
  • Folktale and Form Unlimited
  • Little Red Riding Hood and the Freudian Wolf Unlimited
  • Goldilocks Meets Oedipus Unlimited
  • Hyenas and Demon Brides Unlimited
  • Jaguars, Vampires, and Starlets Unlimited

About the instructor

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology