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Ongoing Research Symposium

About the Workshop

This workshop explores from a multidisciplinary standpoint how oral literature stands alongside and engages with texts in literate societies. While the study of oral literature has transformed many disciplines in the last century, the label of “true” orality was originally granted only to pre-literate traditions. We bring together a variety of perspectives as to how different disciplines have bridged the perceived gap between verbal art and artistic text. To that end, the workshop builds an ongoing conversation on
topics such as the transmission and textualization of folk literature, the interplay between spoken word and written text, and the sociology of reading and performance. 

Our aim is to broaden participants’ perspectives of oral literature in a literate society by encouraging a methodological dialogue across disciplines. Each session features an invited speaker who gives a short introduction to a pre-circulated paper followed by a respondent who will open the discussion. We warmly invite anyone who is interested in questions surrounding orality and literacy to join us for food and fellowship.

Please join our mailing list to receive notices about events and pre-circulated papers. 

The workshop began the winter quarter with the Symposium on Ongoing Research. Scholars  from different disciplines came together to present their current research and discuss the various challenges and approaches to studying the relationship between orality and text.


Jacqueline Arthur-Montagne (Classics) traced the adaption and evolution of a Greek romance novel in Middle Eastern literary traditions. The processes by which the Greek Parthenope became the Persian ‘Adrah and the Coptic-Arabic Bartanuba allow us to better understand how complicated and interwoven the relationship was between orality and text during Late Antiquity and the Early Medieval periods.


Sukanya Chakrabarti (Theater and Performance Studies) discussed how Bauls (Bengalese traveling folk musicians and spiritual performers) have come to signify heterogeneous identities, and how these different identities become manifested in songs. In her studies of contemporary Baul performances, Chakrabarti raised questions on how Bauls interact with today’s modern, urban, and text-filled world.


James Redfield (Religious Studies) explored several readings of what looks like an ethnographic "arrival scene" in the Babylonian Talmud.Redfield argued that, despite parallels to ethnographic works and oral discourse, the text of the Babylonian Talmud was in fact shaped by a group of unnamed redactors in the mid-first millennium BCE. The work of these editors can be seen in the authoritative anonymous passages framing the oral material attributed to specific great scholars of the past.


Alan Sheppard (Classics) examined how inscribed epigram of the Greek Archaic period used formulae from Greek oral poetry. By tracing how formulae from Greek oral traditions were reused and adapted in inscriptions, Sheppard demonstrated how both oral and inscribed poetry of the Archaic period were influenced by similar pressures of composition and variation.


This roundtable discussion on the relationship between oral literature and written text aroused many different questions:


  • How do we understand locality and transience in our studies of oral and written texts?

  • What is the relationship between orality and “authenticity”?

  • What are the different ways in which elements of oral literature can manifest in text?

  • Is it still productive to think of an “original” performance or a “primary” text?

  • How do oral literature and text function to create, perpetuate, nuance, and challenge ideology?