Urban Legends of the Supernatural (Full)

Adam Andrews, Lecturer

Course: ENGLISH 192, SEM 001
Class Number: 27517
Credits: 3 HU
Time: MW 9:30 – 10:45 AM
Place: LAP 252

Course Description:

Did you hear the one about the Vanishing Hitchhiker? Have you ever played with a Ouija board and had something strange happen? Tales of the supernatural range from urban legends about ghosts and monsters to stories told by people who believe they encountered something out of the ordinary—angels, UFOs, and things that go bump in the night. In this course we will take a close look at the stories we tell in order to understand the social, cultural, and sometimes personal significance these stories have. In this class we will examine urban legends, myths, and ghost stories, as well as narratives of personal encounters of the supernatural. We’ll debate scholarship which has emerged in the last half-century trying to make sense out of these supernatural stories, and actively try to make our own kind of sense out of them, both as coherent genres of traditional narrative, and as a kind of experience with deeply rooted cultural, social, and personal meanings. In this seminar we will work to: (1) Recognize, understand, and analyze the traditional nature of the narratives we hear everyday and their social and cultural significance, including how these narratives give shape and expression to our experiences, beliefs, values, and fears. (2) Learn, critique, and apply academic theories related to understanding traditional forms of narrative such as legends, memorates, folk tales, and myths. (3) Develop our own scholarly voices/arguments in verbal and written form.

Work Involved:

In this course you will read scholarship about various belief traditions, legends, and narratives of encounters with the supernatural, do your own original research on belief traditions and narratives among your own family and friends, and write a final project paper that uses class concepts to analyze and make sense of those narratives and beliefs. In the second half of the semester, each student’s own research will become part of the course. The first draft of each project paper will be read by the class as an assigned reading and become the basis of our class discussions. Students will do formal presentations of their work, and then we will work as a class to develop, critique, and think through each project. Students will then revise and extend their project papers into their final form. Grades in the class will be determined according to the formula below:

  • Attendance, participation, and being prepared for class (25%)
  • Weekly one-page papers responding to assigned readings (25%)
  • Project Paper-First draft, 4+ pages (15%)
  • Project Presentation (10%)
  • Final Project Paper-Revised (7+ pages) (25%)

Sample Reading:

Adler, Shelley. Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome among Hmong Immigrants: Examining the Role of the "Nightmare." The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 104, No. 411 (Winter, 1991), pp. 54-71. http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.lib.uwm.edu/stable/541133 (UWM logon necessary if you are accessing this article from off campus)

About the Instructor:

Adam Andrews holds degrees in Folklore from the University of Oregon (M.A.), and in Anthropology (M.A.) and English (B.A.) from the University of Iowa. Born and raised in Iowa, he has always been fascinated by religion and the supernatural. In graduate school he found the perfect opportunity to turn his hobby into an academic pursuit, studying folk belief and religion. He has done research on the relationships between numinous experiences (encounters with the supernatural) and the formation of social groups and networks, uncovering ways in which personal religious experiences are both deeply social and cultural at the same time. He began teaching writing at the University of Oregon, and continued to teach Rhetoric at the University of Iowa while finishing his degree. He has been a lecturer in the English department at UWM since 2006.