Sex and Jewelry in Cross-Cultural Mythology

March 23, 2016 (Wednesday) / 5:00 pm6:30 pm

Kislak Center, 6th fl, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, 3420 Walnut Street

Sex and Jewelry in Cross-Cultural Mythology

Wendy Doniger

Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions
University of Chicago Divinity School

Why are sex and jewelry, particularly circular jewelry, particularly finger rings, so often connected? Why do rings keep getting into stories about marriage and adultery, love and betrayal? Wendy Doniger, acclaimed author of more than 40 books on the history of myth and religion, explains the recurrence of rings as sexual symbols from ancient Indian mythology to contemporary cinema.

Wendy Doniger is Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions, Professor of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and Professor at the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.

A renowned scholar of India, Sanskrit, and Hinduism, Professor Doniger is a prolific author of many aspects of South Asian culture and society, including gender, mythology, literature, law, and zoology. She has also published under the name Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty.

Much of her published work examines issues of sex and sexuality. Siva: The Erotic Ascetic traces the conflict between spiritual aspirations and human desires. Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts examines gender conflict and male anxiety in Indo-European, Vedic, classical Hindu, and contemporary Hindu myths. Tales of Sex and Violence: Folkore, Sacrifice, and Danger in the Jaiminiya Brahmana brings to light a previously neglected subset of Brahamana folklore. Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was explores myths of self-impersonation across various cultures, many of which involve marriage and adultery, to illuminate human approaches to illusion, identity, and authenticity. Along with her interpretive scholarly work, Doniger has also translated a number of works into English (mainly from Sanskrit), including a new translation of the Kamasutra.

Her current projects include The Ring of Truth, and Other Myths of Sex and Jewelry in addition to Skepticism in the Shastras, or The Manipulation of Religion for Politics and Pleasure in Ancient India.

Professor Doniger has received a number of book awards, including the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize from the British Academy for The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade, a cross-cultural examination of myths of waking up beside a stranger, and the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India.

Her popular The Hindus: An Alternative History (Viking Penguin 2009; Penguin India 2010) won two awards in India: the 2012 Ramnath Goenka Award and the 2013 Colonel James Tod Award, only to become embroiled in a lengthy legal battle with a conservative organization in India, the details of which Professor Doniger published in The New York Review of Books on May 8, 2014. 

Her other awards include the 2008 Martin E. Marty Public Understanding of Religion Award from the American Academy of Religion, and the 2015 Charles Homer Haskins Prize from the American Council of Learned Societies. She received her PhD in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University, and a DPhil in Oriental Studies from Oxford University. She has been the recipient of a number of honorary degrees, and has acted as adviser on over seventy doctoral dissertations.