June 12, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 18

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    Press honors Lincoln with its Laing Prize

    By Seth Sanders
    News Office

    Bruce Lincoln, the Caroline E. Haskell Professor in the Divinity School, is this year's Gordon J. Laing Prize winner.

    At its award ceremony and dinner on Wednesday, June 4, the University Press awarded the 2002 Gordon J. Laing Prize to Bruce Lincoln, the Caroline E. Haskell Professor in the Divinity School, for his book Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship.

    Awarded annually since 1963 by the Press, the Laing Prize is given to the Chicago faculty member whose book has brought the greatest distinction to the Press' list. The book previously received the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in 2000.

    Theorizing Myth is a history of "myth," from its origins in Greek poetic mythos to modern-day notions --romantic and scholarly (and often both)-- of myth. People have defined myth as both what is most false (absurd fantasies about gods, a poor man's version of science with bogus explanations of how the world works) to what is most true (the view that myth is the symbolic truth that underlies and orders life).

    Debunking the standard scholarly notion that an irrational "myth" gave way to a rational "logos" as part of a Greek miracle (which is itself mythic), Lincoln goes on to explore how nationalists and Romantics used the notion of myth to give purpose and a pedigree to their politics.

    He concludes by offering a new explanation of the nature and power of myth, defining it as "ideology in narrative form," or a set of possible motivations and self-understandings told as a story.

    President Randel presented the award at the ceremony, describing the book as "powerfully relevant to everyday life because of the way it explores the connections between myth, narrative and ideology at a time when people are absorbed in the creation of ideologically driven stories." Ivan Strenski of the University of California wrote that "with its combination of high moral purpose, great learning and stimulating interpretation, Theorizing Myth should be required reading for anyone concerned with the moral and political dimensions of scholarship."

    Randel also connected Lincoln's new book, Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion after September 11 (also from the Press) to Lincoln's project of taking a hard look at what religion does in times of social conflict, a project that also has produced such books as Discourse and the Construction of Society, the edited volume Religion, Rebellion, Revolution; Death, War, and Sacrifice: Studies in Ideology and Practice and Authority: Construction and Corrosion.

    In a generous surprise move, Lincoln returned the $1,000 award he received at the ceremony, donating it to the press. Lincoln explained that Paula Barker Duffy, Director of the Press, had mentioned the financial difficulties that plague scholarly publishing at present.

    "I'm sure that nothing I might do with the money is so important or valuable as helping to support the publication of more fine books," Lincoln said.