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The journeys of Siddhartha Gautama and Jesus of Nazareth : examples of the mythic hero's quest

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Jensen, Judith L.




Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Iwamura, Jane N.
Shakya, Miroj
Fisher, Daniel


Siddhartha Gautama and Jesus of Nazareth are two religious figures that have had a substantial impact on human culture. This dissertation investigates the longevity of these iconic figures by examining their religious narratives through the lens of contemporary cognitive developmental theories. This approach addresses the human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns, project those patterns onto recipient agents, and then compose narratives about the process. In addition to providing insight into what makes certain religious figures so compelling, the project also seeks to evaluate cognitive theory as a viable method of understanding religious narratives.

This study contains both explanatory and experimental components of methodology. The explanatory method examines theories of cognitive narratization, patternicity, and agenticity as functions of the human brain applied to myth making and the development of sacred narratives; explores the linguistic use of metaphor in sacred narratives; and, recounts the myth of “The Hero’s Quest,” that serves as a template for understanding the narratives of Siddhartha and Jesus. Experimentally, I compare and contrast the mythic hero “pattern” proposed by von Hahn, Rank, Raglan, Campbell, and Dundes to the mythic narratives of Siddhartha and Jesus to determine if they result in a “good fit.” The standard of “goodness of fit” is established by the narratives conforming to the collective attributes of von Hahn, Rank, Raglan, Campbell, Dundes as verified by the statistical analysis of content validity and inter-rater reliability. To establish inter-rater reliability of the contemporary interpretation of the narrative passages, four volunteer raters are chosen to read selected narrative passages and complete a checklist of the primary attributes.

Analysis of the data indicates that all the hero attributes are identified in both the narratives of Siddhartha and Jesus although the reliability of the identification of the attributes in specific passages ranges from slight to almost perfect with the divergence being related to rater interpretation of specific passages and the polysemic nature of language.

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University of the West



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