About Peter Stromberg

Author of "Caught in Play" Peter Stromberg

Author of "Caught in Play" Peter Stromberg

Unlike those anthropologists who focus on distant and relatively unfamiliar cultures, I have always been interested in familiar aspects of Western culture.  In fact, in much of my writing I have tried to point out that what we in the West regard as familiar is just as exotic and curious as the activities that other anthropologists have described in far-off lands.

In the first part of my career, I specialized in the study of religion in Western society. My first two books were on Evangelical Protestantism: Symbols of Community (University of Arizona Press 1986) describes a Protestant church in Sweden and its role in Swedish history.  Language and Self-Transformation (Cambridge University Press, 1992) is a study of the Evangelical Christian conversion story.  After writing these two books on religion, I turned to the study of entertainment in American society, in part because I believe that in some ways our largely unexamined engagement with entertainment bears some intriguing similarities to religious behavior.

I am a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Tulsa in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I received my Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Stanford in 1981, and after that I completed two post-doctoral fellowships broadly focused upon psychology. The first was a program in the departments of Psychiatry and Anthropology at the University of California, San Diego, the second was at the Institute of Human Development at University of California, Berkeley. Before coming to Tulsa, I taught at UC Berkeley and the University of Arizona.  If you would like to read more, visit my blog “Sex, Drugs, and Boredom” at Psychology Today.

The Power of Imagination

The Boy Who Drew Cats by Margaret Hodges and Lafcadio Hearn

The Boy Who Drew Cats by Margaret Hodges and Lafcadio Hearn

In the unlikely circumstance that you seek deeper insight into my authorial personality, I offer the following. As a young child, I was at once fascinated and terrified by the classic Japanese folktale “The Boy Who Drew Cats.” In this story, a little boy whose sole talent seems to be drawing cats lands alone in deserted temple where he, guess what, draws cats. The temple is deserted because it is haunted by a goblin, and at night as the boy tries to sleep, the cats come alive and battle the goblin. It’s a bloody, and very scary, business.

I never focused much on the goblin, what got me was the idea of the cats—a product of the boy’s imagination—coming to life in the dead of night. One doesn’t need a degree in clinical psychology to understand that this is a metaphor for one of the most frightening experiences we human beings face, the possibility of our own inner demons coming to life.

When I finished Caught in Play, I noticed that it began with a story, as did my two earlier books. And then I noticed that all three of these stories are versions of “The Boy Who Drew Cats.” All of the stories are, in one way or another, about products of the imagination coming to life. Was I trying to master my youthful fears? Of course, in the end, those cats were what saved the boy from the goblin. In entertainment and religion what humans imagine can come to life, like the cats. And I still don’t know whether we should take comfort from that or be frightened by it.

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