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There is the philosophical question whether there is such thing as a story without a reference to a religious or mythological teaching. That is a question for another SE or group.

My question is:

Is there a term for a story, poem or written art that has no mythological / religious roots.

The question is not about whether it can exist, but is there a phrase to describe this situation.

[background - this is for a presentation, which aims to state, 'while it seems that all stories have a connection to mythology or religion, some believe that ____ is/are an exception.']

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    I think that's just "story". Stories with allegorical elements are called "allegories". Stories shroud in the trappings of mythology are called "myths". Stories told to instill some moral truth are called "parables". And so on. And while numerologists can, post-hoc, make the case that any arbitrary event was "predicted" by their Scripture, so litcrits can, post-hoc, fabricate an argument that an arbitrary story "is" allegorical, or mythological, or what have you -- but that doesn't make it so. – Dan Bron Mar 20 '16 at 16:04
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    Allegory does not mean “a reference to a religious or mythological teaching”! – tchrist Mar 20 '16 at 16:07
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    @DanBron My previous comment wasn't related to yours, just tchrist's. I took his comment to be about the OP's phrase without allegory (a reference to a religious or mythological teaching). However, regarding story, I think the OP wants a term for something that is devoid of mythological and religious roots, not one for something that includes (instances of) them. – Lawrence Mar 20 '16 at 16:14
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    @DanBron They sometimes exist - e.g. animals that fly and are not mammals? Birds comes close. :) – Lawrence Mar 20 '16 at 16:23
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    If you are determined to do so, you can find a religious or mythological element or reference in anything. One of the ways you can do this is to say "X is a Christ figure". OJ was on his way to Calvary (see Dan Bron's comment.) Prove me wrong! – ab2 MonicaNotForgotten Mar 20 '16 at 16:40
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A personal anecdote, being a short story about a real person, has no religious roots. The same is true of any biographical narrative, with the exception of those directly related to mythological or religious figures.

While it seems impossible to have a story without a connection to mythology or religion, some believe that personal anecdotes are an exception."

Other exceptions include portraits and landscapes in art and nonsense verse (like limericks) in poetry, to cover the other fields you mentioned.

  • Anecdotes can be about religious figures and their teachings. – Lawrence Mar 20 '16 at 16:09
  • I edited in "with the exception of those directly related to mythological or religious figures," but thinking it over, personal anecdote avoids that critique. – GetzelR Mar 20 '16 at 16:15
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    @GetzelR Of course, "all <stories/anecdotes/etc> with the exception of those related to mythological or religious figures" is the ultimate answer. But I like your illustration here that stories can just be, with no underlying metaphor. – Dan Bron Mar 20 '16 at 16:21
  • @DanBron I think OP is looking for a specific genre of stories to prove his point. The premise he is challenging strikes me as absurd - all modern (post-biblical etc) non-fiction meets his criteria, as does all fiction not actually myth or "fan-fiction" set in those worlds. Fiction by definition is invented and can be said to be influenced by, but not rooted in, other fictions – GetzelR Mar 20 '16 at 16:25
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    @DanBron Right. Which is why I offer personal anecdote. Of course, the post-hoc crowd you mention (overzealous fans of Campbell, I'd imagine) could examine the anecdote's structure and relate it to myth or religion, bringing even the story about the time the store was out of tomatoes into the mythology/religious story tradition. – GetzelR Mar 20 '16 at 16:34
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Try secular non-fiction to exclude both myth (fiction) and religion.

Secular adjective 1 Not connected with religious or spiritual matters - ODO

Non-fiction noun Prose writing that is informative or factual rather than fictional - ODO

Your sample sentence is then

While it seems impossible to have a story without a connection to mythology or religion, some believe that secular non-fiction is an exception.

You have taken pains to separate the philosophical discussion from the English phrase request. The discussions on this page have led to the philosophical position that stories that are merely motivated by religious themes, such as your example of the triumphant underdog, are to be labelled religious; and stories that could be given a religious interpretation even after they have been written are also to be labelled religious. By definition, then, those stories are not secular.

The question is not about whether it can exist, but is there a phrase to describe this situation.

This answer is compatible with the notion that although philosophically there may be no such thing as secular non-fiction, that's what it would be called if it existed. That is, although I offer a name for the category (the English phrase to describe this situation), I don't claim that any story exists within that category (cf The question is not about whether it can exist).

  • Hi Lawrence, +1 for non-fiction & secular, but I am looking for an umbrella term for written word that expressly has no ties to religion/mythology. So there may be a secular story, for example, where a guy rights a wrong - having no interest in religion, but it is still inherently based off of religious morals. Philosophically, I might have to accept that there is not such a thing. – Mikey Mar 22 '16 at 0:10
  • In this context, it's by definition not secular if it has a religious basis. – Lawrence Mar 22 '16 at 0:51
  • @Lawrence If you read Mikey's comment just before the Q was re-opened, you'll see that his position is that underdog stories have their basis in David & Goliath. This holds even for secular films - Rocky, say, or The Karate Kid - because while their authors may have not intentionally based their works on religious or mythical themes, they are rooted in them nonetheless. I imagine similar doubts extend to non-fiction, as well. – Dan Bron Mar 22 '16 at 12:02
  • @DanBron I understand what you're saying - by Mikey's definition, all literature is touched by religion, either intrinsically (e.g. Rocky) or by post hoc interpretation, a la ab2. I'm inclined to agree. But that is a position rooted in philosophy, which Mikey explicitly keeps out of bounds for this question (see penultimate paragraph of his question). My answer is that the English "phrase to describe this situation" is secular non-fiction. (cont'd ...) – Lawrence Mar 22 '16 at 15:04
  • @DanBron We're fast concluding that there's no such thing, and that's fine with the OP and me. :) That is, I'm fine with the notion that there's no such thing as "secular non-fiction", but if there were, that's what it would be called. – Lawrence Mar 22 '16 at 15:05

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