Beliefs in witchcraft, the power of humans to intervene in the flow of life events and to harm others by supernatural means, is widely distributed both geographically and chronologically. How in European history the accusations were developed and put together with the elaboration of a sufficiently coherent framework of reference can be the focus of historical attention. This is indeed part of a wider process of formation of scapegoat images through time and on different social targets, from the heretics to the lepers, and from the Jews to ultimately witches. All this, along with the late medieval construction of the concept of the diabolic witches’ Sabbath, constitute a historical issue, the discussion and the understanding of which demand the involvement of a multidisciplinary way of approaching historical inquiry as well as an open-minded sight.
This course aims to lay out the rise and downturn of witch-beliefs in medieval and early modern Europe, tracing the multifaceted roots leading to their construction, from the Classical Greek and Roman literary traditions to medieval lore and popular beliefs, up to the outburst of the “witch-craze” in early modern Europe. We would dedicate this time more attention to the shaping of beliefs and their role in igniting witchcraft prosecutions both within and beyond the paradigmatic West-European persecution waves: Central and Eastern Europe, modern witch-hunts in the global South, and neopagan revival activities will be studied in a comparative way. Discussing belief in magic and witchcraft as well as persecution from a global perspective will bring us to issues that can help us understand modern witch-hunting waves, the dangerous social psychological mechanisms leading to scape-goat persecutions, and the persistence of beliefs in magical dangers and remedies for problems in health, environment, and human communities in general.
Financial aid is available.
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