Mythology and Religious Studies

Classes begin early September

By discerning the underlying similarities and threads in the world’s myths and traditions, we better understand our shared humanity, while honoring the diverse ways human beings live and make meaning of their experience.

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The Mythological Studies Program at Pacifica

M.A./Ph.D. in Mythological Studies with Emphasis in Depth Psychology

The foundation of Mythological Studies at Pacifica is the close reading of primary texts from a variety of cultural and religious traditions. These courses encourage interdisciplinary scholarship, giving particular attention to myths, iconography, symbols, religious beliefs, and ritual practices. Historical and contemporary approaches to the study of myth are also carefully reviewed.

The study of myth can help guide us with its storehouse of narratives and images, facilitating our personal and collective transition into a more vibrant reality. Myth reveals the unconscious narratives of both past and present, making the study of myth vitally important to our time. Issues of faith and violence, sexuality, the sacred and the secular, all co-mingle in the history of world religions and literature to weave the stunning tapestry that is mythological studies.

Renowned mythologist, professor, and author Joseph Campbell taught that myth has the power to touch our deepest creative energies, and to generate symbolic images that confer significance upon the complexity of modern life and history. It thrives on paradox, ambiguity, and the shape-shifting ways that metaphor informs and transforms our lives. Cultivating the mythic imagination leads to self-revelation and a profound and dynamic understanding of cultures our own and others.

Mythology and Religious Traditions

The foundation of Mythological Studies at Pacifica is the close reading of primary texts from a variety of cultural and religious traditions. Attention is given to myths, iconography, symbols, religious beliefs, and ritual practices. Historical and contemporary approaches to myth illumine its enduring power in the postmodern age.

Myth and Literature

The courses in this domain focus on the interpretation of classical literature, poetry, and literary works from the ancient to the postmodern periods.

Throughout the program, students engage in the close reading of classic works of world literature, including the Homer’s Odyssey, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, medieval grail legends, and fairy tales. The rituals and contemplative practices of religious traditions are investigated along with mythic and archetypal aspects of modern literature, contemporary events, and popular culture. Several methods of scholarly interpretation are taught with a special emphasis on the hermeneutical approaches of depth psychology.

Depth Psychology and Culture

Depth psychology is an important resource for the study of myth, literature, religious traditions, and culture. These courses draw substantially on the work of Freud, Jung, and Hillman and provide hermeneutical approaches that complement methods used in other disciplines such as religious studies and literature.

Mentoring throughout matriculation in the program is available from core faculty members, and a student literary journal and on-line academic journal provide students with opportunities for publication. The curriculum is further augmented by an annual colloquium given by distinguished guest scholars — such as Maria Tatar (Harvard University), Jeffrey Kripal (Rice University), and Robert Segal (University of Aberdeen), author of Myth: A Very Short Introduction — who address critical issues in the contemporary study of myth and contemporary culture.


Patrick Mahaffey, Ph.D. and Core Faculty member explains Mythological Studies at Pacifica

Students in the Mythological Studies Program:

  • Investigate mythologies and cultural traditions through the lenses of religious studies, literature, and depth psychology.
  • Discover recurring mythic themes in classic and contemporary literature, ritual, theater, art, music, film, and philosophy, and explore their cultural, sociopolitical, and historical contexts.
  • Uncover the common patterns in human life throughout much of history and the varied ways human beings live and make meaning of their experience through the study of diverse cultural mythologies.
  • Engage in the transformative experiences of deep reading, scholarly and creative writing, and generative discussions that advance our personal mythology in relation to communities and culture.

What You Can Do With A Mythological Studies Degree

Graduates of the program enrich their personal and professional lives through the transformative power of myth, developing highly advanced and universal skill sets useful in a broad range of professions such as education, psychology, healthcare, the arts, filmmaking, religion, business, politics, law, and community and environmental affairs.

Our alumni include:

Kwame Scruggs
Kwame Scruggs, Ph.D. (2009)

Kwame Scruggs is Founder and Executive Director of the Ohio-based nonprofit Alchemy Inc., which uses mythological storytelling, drumming, and mentorship to assist urban adolescent males develop a sense of life purpose. Dr. Scruggs accepted the 2012 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House on November 19th, 2012, for his work using myths and drumming to empower urban youth.


Janet Bubar Rich
Janet Bubar Rich, Ph.D. (2010)

Janet Bubar Rich is a Board Member of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, Greater Los Angeles Chapter, and author of several books and book chapters. Dr. Rich, through her writing and speaking, hopes to nourish the imagination as she delves into the mythic sense of everyday life, offering connections that help us meet life’s challenges with curiosity, confidence, meaning, and ease. Her publications include Riding on Horses’ Wings, Hestia: Goddess of the Hearth, and Exploring Guinevere’s Search For Authenticity In The Arthurian Romances.


William Linn
William Linn, Ph.D. (2015)

William Linn is Director of General Education at the Relativity School in Los Angeles, CA. He has also co-hosted a radio show that he created for the Santa Barbara News Press and Joseph Campbell Foundation Mythological Round Tables called Mythosophia (available on iTunes), in which he interviewed leading story artists and scholars from such territories as myth and religion, sci-fi and fantasy, visions and dreams, rituals, novels, films, comics and other storytelling formats and mediums.


Susan Chaney
Susan Chaney, Ph.D. (2015)

Susan Chaney is Academic Dean at Southwest Acupuncture College. Her doctoral dissertation explored how desire is a motivator for individual change and growth. Her interdisciplinary approach included mythological studies, religious studies, depth psychology, neurobiology, alternative healing, and movement arts, and presented practices that integrate the mind, body, and emotions through conscious awareness and the body’s natural senses.


Mythological Studies Scholarship Programs

The Joseph Campbell Scholarship Fund is for the M.A/Ph.D. Mythological Studies Program. A number of the scholarships are offered to newly admitted students in the Mythological Studies Program based on extreme financial hardship, academic merit, and content of essay.

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Chair & Faculty

The Faculty members of Pacifica’s M.A./Ph.D. in Mythological Studies bring a passion for education and a wealth of real-world experience into the classroom. As leaders in the fields, the members of Pacifica’s faculty include authors of international acclaim, renowned lecturers, practicing psychologists, active psychotherapists, registered nurses, theologians, and philosophers. All Mythological Studies faculty members share a passion for education and are dedicated to working with adult learners. To learn more about the faculty in the M.A./Ph.D. in Mythological Studies, then read the individual descriptions below.

Curriculum Overview

The Master of Arts degree is awarded after the first two years of study and a comprehensive examination. The program continues with a third year of classes including a sequence of research courses and the development of an acceptable concept paper for the dissertation. The fourth and fifth years of study focus on dissertation writing and research. Continuing supervision is provided for the completion of the dissertation.

Mythological Studies classes take place Friday, Saturday and Sunday, approximately once each month during fall, winter, and spring. There is also a five-day summer session each year.

*Writing projects for this course take place away from campus. This curriculum may vary depending upon evolving academic needs. The required fourth and fifth years of study focus on reading, research, and dissertation writing.

Graduation Requirements

Degree Requirements For Graduation

  1. Students must complete 82 quarter units to fulfill the unit requirement for graduation.
  2. A minimum grade of “C” is required in each completed course. A cumulative grade point average of 3.0 must be maintained..
  3. Students must attend at least two-thirds of each course.
  4. Students must successfully pass a Comprehensive Examination during the second year of course work. Each exam essay must receive at least 70 points. The M.A. degree is awarded when this is achieved along with the completion of 45 quarter units. To be eligible to continue taking course work for the Ph.D. degree, students must receive at least 80 points for each exam question.
  5. Students must pass an Oral Consultation pertaining to a concept paper for the dissertation.
  6. Students must submit and defend an original dissertation accepted by the faculty.

Comprehensive Examination

The Comprehensive Examination is a written exam taken during the second year of the program that examines students’ understanding of theoretical perspectives pertaining to myth, as well as their ability to apply them to particular cultural traditions. It also assesses students’ ability to reflect on myth in relation to depth psychology, literature, and cultural issues. In addition, an oral consultation takes place in the Dissertation Formulation course during the third year of the program. The purpose of this assessment is to raise critical questions pertaining to the proposed dissertation project. Students must successfully incorporate the critique of this consultation into their dissertation concept papers in order to be advanced to candidacy.

Doctoral Dissertation

The dissertation requirements include successful completion of the advanced research courses: Religious Studies Approaches to Mythology, Research Strategies for Dissertation Writing, and Dissertation Formulation. Students must produce an acceptable Dissertation Concept Paper before enrolling in Dissertation Writing. The Dissertation Committee is composed of a Chair, a Reader, and an External Reader. Each member must possess an earned doctorate degree based on a dissertation, unless this requirement is waived by the Research Coordinator of the Mythological Studies Program.

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For information regarding Pacifica’s M.A. and Ph.D. Mythological Studies Program, please contact Rene Marchington, Admissions Advisor, at 805.879.7309 or rmarchington@pacifica.edu.


For important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attend this program please visit the Gainful Employment page. All of Pacifica Graduate Institute’s degree programs are accredited by the Western Association of School and Colleges (WASC) and the Department of Education to offer financial aid.