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HIS587: Persecuting Deviance 1100-1700

This course introduces students to the phenomena of witchcraft, sorcery, magic and voodoo.

This course introduces students to the phenomena of witchcraft, sorcery, magic and voodoo. Beginning in Babylon, the course orients students to an understanding of these subjects as practiced in the premodern world. With this conceptual foundation, students gain an understanding of the categorization of witchcraft and other questionable or deviant practices during the Middle Ages through the Age of Enlightenment. As these forms of Western thinking spread throughout the globe on the waves of imperialism, Europeans encountered practices of indigenous cultures that they classified as taboo or dangerous. Buttressed by a cosmic view of good and evil, Westerners sought to persecute such behaviors, attributing them as manifestations of the devil's minions. This course exposes students to the theoretical debates and historical contexts where violent exchanges often took place in regions such as Africa, Asia and Latin America. Among the topics considered are the relationship of institutional power to societal beliefs in the supernatural; social constructions of purity, taboo and danger; gender roles and behavioral norms; categories of magic; curative practices; and the categorization of "madness" or mental disorders. Our study will conclude with an examination of the notorious events of 1692 that occurred in nearby Salem, Massachusetts, an episode that continues to fascinate scholars and challenge our thinking about the "deviant" past. Open to seniors.