Sarah Iles Johnston

Sarah Iles Johnston

Sarah Iles Johnston

College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Religion

(614) 292-2058

424 University Hall
230 North Oval Mall
Columbus, OH 43210

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Areas of Expertise

  • Religions of the ancient Mediterranean
  • Myths
  • Comparative study of religions and myths
  • Archaic Greek poetry
  • Narratology
  • Horror fiction


  • PhD, Cornell University, 1987
  • MA, Cornell University, 1983
  • BA, Classics, University of Kansas, 1980
  • BS, Journalism, University of Kansas, 1979
An interest that has run throughout my career is the question of how people come to hold the religious beliefs that they do. What makes us believe in God, or gods, or demons, or angels, or saints, or ghosts, or ifrits, or banshees or anything else? In recent years, I've focused particularly on how narratives create and sustain such beliefs and how they help to underwrite the rituals that accompany belief. My most recent book is The Story of Myth (2018), which uses approaches from folklore studies, narratology, media studies and the social sciences to better understand the ways in which myths, in the vivid forms in which they were narrated in ancient Greece, contributed to the creation and sustenance of belief in the ancient gods and heroes. My next book, Gods and Mortals: Ancient Greek Myths for Modern Readers (due out in late 2022) puts to use what I learned by writing The Story of Myth.  There, I aim to retell Greek myths in a way that will engage modern audiences while nonetheless remaining true to ancient versions. 
I'm now working on two projects.  One is a book that looks at the reasons that audiences since the 1830s have had a seemingly endless appetite for horror stories, with particular attention to the ways in which these stories fulfill some of the same functions as religions do—and especially to the ways in which they support or challenge belief in supernatural entities.  The other is a book that looks at the reasons that ancient myths still fascinate us and the ways in which they continue to do important ideological work.

Curriculum Vitae



Selected Publications