RELI 377 - History of Witchcraft, Magic, and the Occult

This course surveys the global history and theory of witchcraft and the occult from antiquity to the twentieth century, with a focus on events and practices in the West. We will study various notions of magic and demonology, their intersection with witchcraft trials and witch hunting, the role of religion, shifts in ideas about torture and the law, re-emergence of the occult in 19th-century, the development of Wicca and the cult of the goddess, and persistent concerns over witchcraft in countries such as Angola in the 20th and 21st centuries. We will explore what different societies considered good evidence of the supernatural and how shifting standards of proof and rationality have affected popular understandings of the occult and witchcraft through the centuries. While witchcraft is often associated today with women, we will not focus exclusively on women's experiences. Instead we will investigate the experiences of both sexes with the supernatural and how gender perceptions influenced the construction of ideas about witchcraft. Our examination of the past will be historical in method, but we will also address legal, medical, and anthropological questions in our study. Students will read and interpret original documents and other original sources, learning to understand assumptions about the world that may seem strange to us.

Grade Basis
Regular Grades
Course Attributes
Writing Emphasis