Dr. Kathleen Ragan

It is strange to conceptualize my life as I have taken the proverbial road less traveled.  I have lived in Ecuador, Germany, Japan, France, and Australia for a total of 23 years.  I have learned German, Japanese, and French.  I have traveled to over fifty countries.  I have spent countless hours in the bowels of dusty libraries on various continents, reading over 50,000 folktales from around the world. 

 

Although I was earning my living as a professional dancer for television and stage in the US, Germany and Japan, I continued my focus on folk and fairy tale studies. My BA from SUNY Binghamton came with a specialization in Medieval Studies and languages, culminating in my own translation of the Old English saga, Beowulf. I continued my education at Ludwig Maximillian University, Munich, reading the German saga Das Niebelungenlied in Mittlehochdeutsch (Middle German) and finding the wonderful German literary fairy tale writers like Tiek, Hauff, and Hoffmann, and of course reading the Grimms’ KinderundHaus Märchen.  

 

When I had my two girls, my underlying passion for folk and fairy tales found expression in the anthology, Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World. In her introduction, Jane Yolen wrote: “With the publication of this book, [Ragan] has become an important figure in the restoration of the feminine aspect of the hero…”

 

My response to 9/11 was a second collection, Outfoxing Fear: Folktales from Around the World, which won the Aesop’s Prize.  In the introduction, Jack Zipes wrote: “Like the tales that she has collected, [Ragan] takes us on a journey of exploration…It is a journey worth taking.  It is not every day that one meets a contemporary Scheherazade.”

 

Based on these books, I was entered into the research PhD program at Macquarie University, Sydney. My advisors were in English and Evolutionary Psychology. My thesis, Folktales in an Evolutionary Context, spanned multiple disciplines including: evolutionary literary studies, cultural evolution, anthropology, and folk and fairy tale studies. The publication of part of the thesis “generated considerable discussion in the discipline.” Maria Tatar (John L. Loeb Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Chair of the Committee on Degrees in Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University) wrote about the thesis. “What I admire most is…its provocative nature…I applaud the fact that Ragan has engaged one of the more prominent figures in the field and their exchange led to a deeply provocative intervention in the field…”

 

My published papers include:

"What Happened to the Heroines in Folktales? An Analysis by Gender of a Multicultural Sample 

of Published Folktales Collected from Storytellers" 

“Asymmetry in male and female storyteller priorities” 

 

My passion for my studies has not diminished and in the years following the receipt of my PhD, I have honed my thoughts about the uses of storytelling.  When humans invented language, it was accompanied by a major shift in our brains.  When humans invented writing, our storytelling acquired different patterns: sustained thought, analytical thought, and introspection. Recently humanity has awakened to find ourselves in the midst of a third revolution in thought – computer mediated communication and the dawn of electronic thought.  

The development of computer assisted thought will change our world.  But how?  What capabilities are we losing?  What insights are we gaining?  To better answer these questions, I have undertaken an examination of storytelling across time, cultures, and traditions to ask the question: What is the future of human thought in the electronic age? This represents a synthesis of my lifelong studies and is the subject of my new book: Why We Tell Stories: A Human Survival Tool from Folktales to Facebook. 

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