Past classes

A Christmas fairy tale: The shoes that were danced to pieces

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20:30
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Description

This tale from the Brothers Grimm has become a RAG tradition, told every year on the last day of the autumn term, just before Christmas. It tells of twelve princesses and their trips to go dancing in the underworld. This magical tale introduces us to universal mythological themes....

The Anthropology of David Graeber

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20:30
Description

David Graeber's unexpected death on September 2nd this year shocked us all. This evening we will pay tribute to David's astonishingly rich contributions to anthropology and invite discussion of his academic and activist work.

Did matriarchy ever exist?

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20:30
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Almost every indigenous society has a myth which tells of a time when women ruled the world. Professor Chris Knight will analyze a range of indigenous myths from Amazonia, Africa and Australia which describe the moment when men violently overthrew women's rule and established patriarchy through terror. He will then survey ethnographic, archaeological and genetic evidence bearing on gender relations over the course of human evolution and history.

New class 1

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21:00
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Description of class

Zoom ID
384 186 2174

The sex-strike theory of human origins

Class finishes
20:00
Speaker(s)
Description

Chris Knight is best known for his 'sex-strike' theory of human origins. Instead of attempting to explain human cultural origins piecemeal, one theory for the incest taboo, another for language, yet another for religion and so forth, Knight's approach is designed to join up the dots. Confirmed by recent discoveries in population genetics, archaeology, the science of mythology and hunter-gatherer ethnography, this is one of the few successful attempts to put together the big picture, explaining religion, language, sexual morality and the whole range of distinctively human characteristics on the basis of one simple idea.

Zoom ID
Please register for each talk via EventBrite to receive the ZOOM ID.

The Origins Of Language

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Description

This is a ZOOM webinar with Chris Knight on the Social Origins of Language. To prepare for it, please view RAG Vimeo here https://vimeo.com/147820097 with Chris Knight and Jerome Lewis of UCL and/or look at Wild Voices here https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.1086/692905 Please register for this event on https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wild-voices-the-extraordinary-story-of-how-language-first-evolved-tickets-102346856202 by April 21, 9 am BST. You will be sent the ZOOM link that day.

Film Showing: ‘The Moon Inside You‘

Description

‘The Moon Inside You‘ is a brilliantly original ethnography of menstruation as experienced by women and perceived by men in our modern world. This is a rare London showing of an extraordinary film, directed by Slovak radical anthropologist Diana Fabianova. Quirky, fast-moving, bubbling with humour and flashes of insight, it follows Diana as she travels the world, trying to find out from school children, scientists, therapists, cab drivers, poets, rappers and men in suits what menstruation really means. The showing will be followed by questions and discussion led by Chris Knight and Camilla Power.

Class syllabus

An Amazonian Myth: The Hunter Monmanéki and His Wives

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Chris Knight chooses another myth, this time from Amazonia, to illustrate the effects of male dominance and patrilocal residence on women's lives. In this particular case, the myth conceptualises the damage done through the image of a woman cut in two, her legs and body sinking down to earth while her upper half flies into the sky.

Myths of Aboriginal Australia: Rainbow Snakes and Song-Lines

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The entire continent of Australia was once criss-crossed by song lines, elaborate myths and ritual re-enactments binding people together over vast distances. Presiding over everything was an 'All-Mother' who was simultaneously a rainbow and a snake -- the gender-ambivalent Rainbow Snake. In Australia, a local version of her story would be bound up inseparably with waterholes, boulders and other prominent features of the landscape; recounting the Rainbow Snake's adventures meant following the tracks left by her and her children, sometimes over hundreds of miles. This talk explores the underlying structures of kinship, marriage and ritual action which tie all these stories together.

Decoding Chomsky's Linguistic Theories: Science and Revolutionary Politics

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Noam Chomsky has been described as the world's only 'super-intellectual'. This talk is about Chomsky's 'cognitive revolution' which has dominated much of intellectual life in the West since the early postwar period, with particular reference to the effect it has had on anthropology and the social sciences. You will be surprised by the many paradoxes as the tale unfolds.

The Cognitive Revolution: How Computers Changed the Way We Think

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Although ignored by the left, the cognitive revolution was in many ways the biggest intellectual upheaval since Galileo's discovery that the earth moves. From the early 1960s onwards, digital computation began revolutionising how philosophers, cognitive scientists, psychologists – even anthropologists and archaeologists – conceptualised what the human mind is like.

The Prehistory of Sex

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What does it mean to be human? The human body is rich with evidence of how we evolved in the distant past. Why do the males of many primate species practice infanticide? Is sexual jealousy natural and inevitable? Were our prehistoric ancestors naturally monogamous or is polygamy more likely? Can modern genetic techniques determine whether early human kinship was matrilineal, patrilineal or some combination of these? In the past, scientists could only make guesses on such topics, but today we are beginning to discover some answers.

Echoes of the Dreamtime: Decoding Myths and Fairy Tales

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Description

Language, art, music and culture emerged in Africa over 100,000 years ago, culminating in a symbolic explosion or ‘human revolution’ whose echoes can still be heard in myths and cultural traditions from around the world. We begin by introducing the approach to mythology of Claude Levi-Strauss, illustrating with a familiar fairy story from the Brothers Grimm collection.

Introducing Anthropology: Magical Myths and Fairy Tales

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Description

Language, art, music and culture emerged in Africa over 100,000 years ago, culminating in a symbolic explosion or ‘human revolution’ whose echoes can still be heard in myths and cultural traditions from around the world. To illustrate the approach of Claude Levi-Strauss, we will begin by decoding a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection.

What Makes People Weird? Menstrual Taboos Among Scientists in Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich and Democratic (Weird) Societies

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Western, educated, industrial, rich and democratic (WEIRD) countries produce scientists who share cultural assumptions which have nothing to do with science. Stemming from the days when universities were theological colleges, there are powerful taboos about menstruation and the moon which prevent scientists from being entirely rational when approaching the story of human biological and cultural evolution.

Rejecting the Illusion of Economic Growth: Can Lunarchy Work?

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Many economists argue that the concept of 'economic growth' has outlived its usefulness. One consequence of modern turbo-capitalism has been the escalating cost of time. Since 'time is money', time itself - time for enjoying life, for being with our children, for contemplating the stars - has become a scarce resource which no one can afford. When all humans were hunter gatherers, time was in abundant supply. Can we learn from extant hunter-gatherers how to re-set our clocks and reclaim time?

Selfish Genes, Sociobiology and the Emergence of Modern Darwinism

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When Richard Dawkins' book 'The Selfish Gene' was published in 1976, it caused an outrage on the left. Marxists, feminists and others took the book to be a celebration of laissez-faire economics and competitive individualism. But when we look at the versions of Darwinism which had prevailed in the previous period, it becomes clear that 'selfish gene' theory represented a major scientific advance. Far from justifying selfishness, the new Darwinism explains in a convincing way why instincts of solidarity and generosity are commonplace throughout the natural world. Today, one of the major figures in human evolutionary theory is the feminist thinker and 'selfish gene' pioneer Sarah Hrdy, whose book 'Mothers and Others' explains how cooperative childcare was the critical factor which gave rise to our species. Hrdy's work represents a modern scientific vindication of the traditional Marxist theory, popularized by Frederick Engels, that early human kinship and family life was based on collective rather than individual parenthood. This talk will review the catalogue of misunderstandings which led the left across most of the western world to respond to a scientific controversy by tragically backing the wrong side.

How Womankind Got Torn in Two. a Myth from the Amazon

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Description

Chris Knight continues his exploration of key myths from Levi-Strauss’ ‘Mythologiques.’ ‘The Hunter Monmaneki and his Wives’ is an Amazonian Indian (Tukuna) myth which tells of a profound and destabilizing shift from periodic to non-periodic marriage, resulting in contradictions for women which tear them apart. If you want to know how women lost the power, come along!

How Marriage Became Permanent. a Myth from the Plains Indians

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Description

'The Wives of the Sun and Moon' is one of the key myths of Claude Levi-Strauss' monumental study, Mythologiques. This evening will take the form of a story-telling followed by a workshop and class discussion to decode the message of the myth. Originally, according to this story, marriage was not a fixed state but a once-a-month honeymoon. Everything started going badly wrong when permanent wedlock was installed.

An Australian Aboriginal Foundation Myth: The Two Wawilak Sisters

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Recorded in numerous versions, the story of the Two Wawilak Sisters is probably the best-known of all Aboriginal Australian myths. It explains the origins of the whole of Aboriginal culture, locating the source of magic and ritual in two young women's synchronized menstruation. Once this myth has been understood, it opens the door to the wonders of Aboriginal mythology as a whole. This evening's talk will be illustrated with many beautiful works of Aboriginal art.

The Master, Claude Lévi-Strauss, on How to Decode Myths and Fairy Tales

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Description

The world's magical myths and fairy tales are all variations on a small number of themes. Ultimately, according to the great French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, they amount to One Myth Only, a single web of mythology embracing the entire human species. One consequence is that once a particular story has been successfully decoded, it can serve as a key to the interpretation of neighbouring myths....

The Sex-Strike Theory of Human Origins

Speaker(s)
Description

Professor Chris Knight is best known for his highly original 'sex-strike' theory of human biological and cultural origins. Instead of attempting to explain human nature piecemeal, one theory for each component, Knight's approach is designed to join up the dots. Spectacularly confirmed by reasons discoveries in archaeology, this is one of the few successful attempts to put together the big picture, explaining religion, language, sexual morality and the whole range of distinctively human characteristics on the basis of one simple principle.

‘The Sleeping Beauty’ and Other Tales: The Deep Structure of Magical Myths

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Description

The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss was the first to discover that the world's magical myths and fairy tales all express the same underlying logic. Across all six continents, they are ultimately a single anonymous voice, 'One Myth Only', or so many variations on a theme. Rather as astronomers can still detect an echo of the Big Bang with which the universe began, so by listening to these myths we can detect an echo of the momentous events in which human language and culture were born. When Levi-Strauss' insights are applied to a familiar fairy story from the Brothers Grimm, the picture which emerges is breathtaking.

Rule by the Moon in Human Origins and Evolution

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Description

Chris Knight has always claimed that the moon played a much larger role in human evolution than is generally thought. This lecture will summarize his overall theory of the origins of religion, ritual, language and symbolic culture. For our distant African ancestors, the moon became crucial from the moment we left the shelter of forest life and began occupying open savanna territory. In this new environment, early humans sought safety in numbers to counter the threat posed by lions and other large cats whose night vision was far superior to ours. Lions prefer to hunt when the moon is dark, which explains why even to this day, hunter-gatherer women choose to sing in chorus at dark moon to keep dangerous predators away. Unlike our ape relatives, women have a menstrual cycle of the length you would predict if synchronizing with the moon had been adaptive in our evolutionary past.

How Collective Childcare Works in Practice

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Description

Anthropologists now widely agree that Homo sapiens evolved with our especially large brains thanks to unusually supportive childcare arrangements. Whereas an ape mother must care for her infant all by herself, evolving humans developed complex systems of cooperative childcare, mothers choosing to live with their own mother and other relatives in order to share childcare tasks. In this workshop, we will explore how sexual relations during human evolution underwent a series of profound changes, with male energies increasingly harnessed to provision and assist mothers and their babies. When did the incest taboo come into force, and why? How does sex in human societies connect up with economics? This session will explore such basic questions as the ultimate nature of distinctively human kinship, family life, economics and sexual morality.

The Sleeping Beauty and Other Tales: The Science of Mythology of Magical Myths

Speaker(s)
Description

The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss was the first to discover that the world's magical myths and fairy tales all express the same underlying logic. Across all six continents, they are ultimately a single anonymous voice, 'One Myth Only', or so many variations on a theme. Rather as astronomers can still detect an echo of the Big Bang with which the universe began, so by listening to these myths we can detect an echo of the momentous events in which human language and culture were born. When Levi-Strauss' insights are applied to a familiar fairy story from the Brothers Grimm, the picture which emerges is breathtaking.

The Sex Strike Theory of Human Origins

Speaker(s)
Description

Professor Chris Knight is best known for his highly original 'sex-strike' theory of human biological and cultural origins. Instead of attempting to explain human nature piecemeal, one theory for each component, Knight's approach is designed to join up the dots. Spectacularly confirmed by recent discoveries in archaeology, this is one of the few successful attempts to put together the big picture, explaining religion, language, sexual morality and the whole range of distinctively human characteristics on the basis of one simple principle.

‘Decoding Chomsky: Science and Revolutionary Politics’ (Book Launch, Paperback Edition)

Description

Noam Chomsky has vigorously disputed the arguments made in Chris Knight's book, 'Decoding Chomsky'. This launch of the new paperback edition will offer a chance for readers to ask questions, debate the issues and challenge Chris Knight's far-reaching conclusions. If you haven't read the book, it doesn't matter: you will learn all you need to know here!

Women's Role in the Origins of Language

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Description

It was once rare for language origins theorists to even mention women. But the anthropologist Sara Hrdy has changed all that. Traditionally, labour was considered the co-operative framework within which language evolved. Hrdy's point is that while this is true, the kind of labour which gave rise to language was cooperative childcare.
Chris Knight will build on this insight to explain how language presupposes very special levels of honesty and trust. The necessary mutual understanding was established in the first instance between mothers who, for the first time, were willing to trust someone else hold their baby without harming it. In place of 'the tool-making ape' or 'the hunting ape', modern evolutionary science now places 'the baby-sitting ape' centre stage.

A Plains Indian Myth: The Wives of the Sun and Moon

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Description

The Plains Indians of North America traditionally pictured a woman's marriage as a to-and-fro movement between two quite different husbands, one the Sun and the other the Moon. Womankind's marital intimacy was viewed not as a static or permanent state but as a periodic one – her monthly 'honeymoon'. Building on the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss in his four-volume analysis of 1,000 Native American myths, Chris Knight will explain why it made sense to conceptualize conjugal relations in this way.
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Australian Aboriginal Myths of the Origins of Fire

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Description

Across Australia, Aboriginal myths say that during the Dreamtime, women secreted fire in their vulvas, hiding their firesticks whenever a man approached. The myths go on to say that one day, a male hero stole fire from a woman and handed it over to men. In this workshop, a number of different versions of the myth will be analyzed using the techniques developed by the founder of structural anthropology, Claude Levi-Strauss. We will explore whether such myths help us to reconstruct changes in gender relations across Australia in the distant past.

A Plains Indian Myth: When Women Lost Their Power

Speaker(s)
Description

'The Wives of the Sun and Moon' is one of the key myths of Claude Levi-Strauss' monumental study, Mythologiques. This evening will begin with a story-telling followed by a workshop and class discussion to decode the message of the myth. Originally, according to the Arapaho Indians of North American Plains, marriage was not a fixed state but a periodic alternation between one kind of relationship and another, a once-a-month honeymoon followed each month by divorce and re-union with kin. Everything started going badly wrong when hunting and gathering gave way to gardening, the lunar calendar gave way to a seasonal/solar rhythm - and womankind became subject to wedlock as a permanent state.

A Christmas Fairy Tale: The Shoes that Were Danced to Pieces

Speaker(s)
Description

This delightful fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm has become a RAG tradition, told every year on the last day of the autumn term, just before Christmas. It tells of twelve princesses and their periodic trips to the underworld, the narrator treating patriarchal marriage as a cruel punishment imposed on a coalition of sisters who had previously been free to dance the nights away. This magical tale introduces us to universal mythological themes which will be explored more fully in the Spring Term. Chris Knight will show how all such tales make sense in the light of the theory that human sexual morality was initially established by women.

Noam Chomsky: The Responsibility of Intellectuals 50 Years On.

Description

PLEASE NOTE VENUE: University College London, Institute for Advanced Studies, AS Forum, Ground Floor, South Wing, Gower St., WC1E 6BT. Hosted by UCL Press, this book launch will include a panel discussion with dissident intellectuals Milan Rai, Jackie Walker and Chris Knight. 'The Responsibility of Intellectuals 50 years on' is a collection of essays by Noam Chomsky, Jackie Walker, Craig Murray and other prominent writers and activists. A highlight of the book is Chomsky's irate denunciation of one of the editors, Chris Knight, whose chapter details the extent to which Chomsky's ideas about language were developed in reaction to the military priorities of MIT, the institution where he worked.

The Sleeping Beauty and Other Tales. Introducing the Science of Mythology

Description

The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss was the first to discover that the world's magical myths and fairy tales all express the same underlying logic. Across all six continents, they are ultimately a single anonymous voice, 'One Myth Only', or so many variations on a theme. Rather as astronomers can still detect an echo of the Big Bang with which the universe began, so by listening to these myths we can detect an echo of the momentous events in which human language and culture were born. When Levi-Strauss' insights are applied to a familiar fairy story from the Brothers Grimm, the picture which emerges is breathtaking.

Evolution, Revolution and Human Origins

Speaker(s)
Description

Chris Knight is best known for having developed the 'sex-strike' theory of human biological and cultural origins. Instead of attempting to explain human nature and social life piecemeal, one theory for the incest taboo, another for language, yet another for religion and so forth, Knight's approach is designed to join up the dots. Spectacularly confirmed by recent discoveries in population genetics and archaeology, this is one of the few successful attempts to put together the big picture, explaining religion, language, sexual morality and the whole range of distinctively human characteristics on the basis of one simple idea.

The Dragon: Making Sense of a World Wide Myth

Speaker(s)
Description

Everyone is familiar with the mythical motif of the Dragon. In myths and fairy tales across the world, we find different versions of a snake-like, coiling creature which connects earth and sky, dwells in water, breathes fire and has a particular fondness for young maidens. In this talk, Chris will be proposing a revolutionary new way of decoding dragon myths. The dragon has nothing to do with folk memories of dinosaurs. Instead, it belongs to the sphere of human ritual, particularly initiation ritual. The dragon is a way of representing matrilineal kinship and women's solidarity through menstrual synchrony, a social force often depicted negatively under conditions of patriarchy. Some of the most persuasive evidence for this new interpretation comes from Aboriginal Australia, where stories about a Rainbow Snake are not disembodied myths but are still acted out in ritual performance.

How Anthropology Might Inspire Anti-Capitalist and Extinction Rebellion Activism

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Description

The looming threat of climate catastrophe is forcing us all to re-think everything we thought we knew. Extinction Rebellion is a movement in urgent need of a scientific language and a sacred cosmology to replace the old patriarchal religions and attitudes which have dominated our minds up to now. In Radical Anthropology, we aim to assist Extinction Rebellion in every way we can, while suggesting that rule by the moon and gender egalitarianism of the kind practiced by hunter-gatherers can powerfully inspire our vision of a future world.

Christianity in Anthropological Perspective

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Description

Jesus of Nazareth was a revolutionary freedom fighter, leading a mass movement of Jewish resistance against the Roman occupation of his country. After the defeat of his uprising and his capture and crucifixion by the Romans, the memory of 'the Messiah' was preserved by diverse groups of followers. In one of these traditions, that of Saint Paul, the real Jesus became transformed into a sacrificial lamb. As in ancient traditions throughout the world, blessings were believed to flow from the shedding of blood. It is this mythologized 'Lamb of God' who is still revered by Christians today. In this talk, we will explore why the earliest Christian communities were organized along strictly communist lines.

Did Matriarchy Ever Exist?

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Description

This lecture will discuss myths of matriarchy, which are found all over the world. Is there any truth in the idea that women once exercised political power over men? Many feminists have dismissed such stories as ideological narratives invented simply to justify men's rule. These scholars argue that biology prevents women from exercising real political power, that sexism prevails everywhere and that patriarchy has always existed. There will be discussion of the ethnographic, archaeological and genetic evidence for and against these ideas.

The Dragon: Making Sense of a Worldwide Myth

Speaker(s)
Description

Everyone is familiar with the mythical motif of the Dragon. In myths and fairy tales across the world, we find different versions of a snake-like, coiling creature which connects earth and sky, dwells in water, breathes fire and has a particular fondness for young maidens. In this talk, Chris will be proposing a revolutionary new way of decoding dragon myths. The dragon has nothing to do with folk memories of dinosaurs. Instead, it belongs to the sphere of human ritual, particularly initiation ritual. The dragon is a way of representing matrilineal kinship and women's solidarity through menstrual synchrony, a social force often depicted negatively under conditions of patriarchy. Some of the most persuasive evidence for this new interpretation comes from Aboriginal Australia, where stories about a Rainbow Snake are not disembodied myths but are still acted out in ritual performance.

An Amazonian Myth: The Woman Who Was Torn in Two

Speaker(s)
Description

Chris Knight continues his exploration of key myths from the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss’ four-volume masterpiece, 'An Introduction to the Science of Mythology' (‘Mythologiques.’) Tonight's narrative, ‘The Hunter Monmaneki and his Wives’ (Tukuna tribe, Amazonia), tells of a profound shift from periodic to non-periodic marriage, resulting in contradictions for womankind which eventually tear her apart. If you want to understand the ultimate origins of patriarchal marriage and the family, come along.