Hunting Witches: a Social Constructivist Perspective

Lauren Thompson is a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Asian Studies. Lauren was a student in Prof. Loewen’s REL101 “The Violent and the Sacred” in Spring 2022. As a senior this year, Lauren will further explore an interest in Religious Studies and Occultism while applying for graduate studies.

First page of Malleus maleficarum from 1572

The history of Western Europe is punctuated by massacres and individual killings of ‘witches.’ Neighbors turned on neighbors, Church turned on parishioners, and the higher classes turned on the lower: all in attempts to rid the world of “witches”. Sociologist Nachman Ben-Yehuda writes, “From the early decades of the 14th century until 1650, continental Europeans executed between 200,000 and 500,000 witches.” (Ben-Yehuda, 1980). Witch trials waxed and waned between the years 1450 to 1750. Experts and researchers have not been able to determine exactly how many lives were lost during those years. Today, the accusation of “witch” continues to play a role in gender-based violence. And while we know much about post-Reformation Europe and its attitude towards the “other”, there are still questions and theories left unanswered.

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Restraint, Anxiety, Faith: Global Politics at the End

Image of Basil Liddell Hart from Wikimedia commons

Manners constitute a restraint.[1]

So quoth Basil Henry Liddell Hart, the British defense intellectual, writing in 1946.  Liddell-Hart’s prominence among British policymakers and defense planners of his generation is difficult to overstate.  Along with JFC ‘Boney’ Fuller, he was one of the first to understand the significance of the tank, and of mechanized warfare (though he was – or so the story goes – unable to convince the Exchequer to pay for them).  Later, he would serve as defence/military affairs editor of the Times of London, and as a behind-the-scenes adviser to Secretary of War Leslie Hore-Belisha, until the latter was outmaneuvered and sacked.  He even wrote a short infantry-training manual for the British Army (some of which appeared in reprint here).

This moment was one in which British ‘topsiders’ were confronting what to them seemed a profoundly upended world. Continue reading

Sabbatical Publications from Prof. Jacobs’ Desk

“Of the making of many books there is no end, and much study is a wearying of the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) So says the unknown author of Sefer Kohelet/the Book of Ecclesiastes, though both the Jewish and Christian religious traditions attribute it to Melekh Shlomo/King Solomon in his old age. (They also attribute, without evidence, Shir Ha-Shirim/Song of Songs to his youthful exuberance, and Sefer Mishlei/the Book of Proverbs, again without evidence, to his middle years.  Further complicating this picture, various translational possibilities has been proffered for the book’s unusual title Kohelet:  Preacher, Convoker, Convener, Assembler [this latter based on the Hebrew word kahal/assembly]; we’re simply not sure.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this—book writing and book publishing and long hours spent in the solitary confines of one’s “study” as the locale where we “house” our never-ending and always-added to collections of books which we deem relevant, important, need to be read/digested/confronted as we pursue the privileged work of the academy. What triggered these and other thoughts were my three current writing projects all under contract at the same time (!) and reflective of my own somewhat diverse but nonetheless connected ongoing research interests. Continue reading

Podcast Series: Teaching Philosophy of Religion in the 21st Century

image of computer screen with online workshop participants

Can philosophy of religion enter the globalized, 21st-century world? If so, how might the field be taught? Prof. Loewen interviewed participants from a recently-concluded project funded by the Wabash Center, “Teaching Philosophy of Religion Inclusively to Diverse Students”: Jin Y. Park, Kevin Schilbrack, Eric Dickman, Louis Komjathy, and Gereon Kopf. You can listen to the episodes as a series on REL Podcasts or find them on the media page of the Global-Critical Philosophy of Religion website. Continue reading

Something New From the “Nones” with the Pew Research Center’s Online Survey Results

The Nones are causing “trouble” again, with sensationalized headlines about the decline of Christianity. These takes can easily reinforce the anxiety among some about changes in society and activate nostalgia for some mythic 1950’s America (which was certainly not experienced as peaceful or comfortable by many marginalized groups in the 1950s, or even today). Based on survey data that the Pew Research Center released this week, those who represent themselves as unaffiliated with religion have grown to almost 30% of the US population. This increase (compared to almost 20% unaffiliated in Pew’s 2012 Nones” on the Rise report) coincides with a significant drop in those who identify as Protestant (which in the survey context includes any Christian not affiliating with Catholic, Orthodox, or Mormon identities). Continue reading

January 6, 2021:  Call it Epiphany

picture of crowd gatheredWhat one calls the events that took place in the capital of the nation on January 6, 2021, is a matter of perspective—a viewpoint acquired primarily, I suspect, through the political persuasion of the one giving name to the phenomenon. Continue reading

All ToC and No Action: Feminism in Philosophy of Religion Textbooks

Feminist theory is all but absent from contemporary research in philosophy of religion. Open a textbook from the field and peruse the table of contents (ToC), and you might see “feminism” listed as a chapter or sub-heading. The contents of that chapter will very likely include references to works published squarely within the 1990s by self-identified “feminist philosophers of religion.” * After reading that section of the textbook, readers will ask: “If even one feminist critique is even partly correct, then why does the book read as though the field’s fundamental problems haven’t changed since the 1960s?” The answer may be that current textbook publications in the field are all ToC and no action. Continue reading

RELdl’s Tools Facilitate Better Conversations Virtual Guests: Perhaps “OWL” Being See You at REL?

What is this?

Have you tried using a basic computer web camera to capture conversations with a classroom? Prof. Loewen has experimented with dozens of ultimately unsatisfactory methods since 2009. With the arrival of the REL digital lab in 2021, things have changed. Continue reading

Should I “Public Humanities”? A Process for Thinking about Whether to Get Involved

 

The Event

I recently hosted a two-day workshop with Richard Newton as part of the American Examples project. Our aim was to think about “public humanities” with the 12 participants in the 2021 cohort. The first day’s over-arching question was, “should I “PH?” I thought it might be useful to share the process that guided our session, since others may be asking that question, too.

We planned this workshop with the assumption that none of the participants have a clear idea of what  is meant by public humanities. They are a group of early career scholars of religion in America. Our workshop was one among several aspects of the project, which engages the study of religion in America across the three areas of research, teaching, and public scholarship. American Examples trains and mentors early career scholars to work beyond the boundaries of American religion. Continue reading

Can We Analyze Trumpism as a Millenarian Movement?

Trump giving his speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention

Elizabeth Tagg is a graduating senior in the Department of Religious Studies,
writing a thesis on apocalyptic rhetoric in the age of Trump.

Donald Trump built his reputation as a political outsider who could “drain the swamp,” fix a broken system, and make America great again. Indeed, in his 2016 RNC speech, he declared that “[he] alone could fix it.” Many believed him, and many still do. For example, when the pandemic and instructions to quarantine were in full swing, Trump started to frame the coronavirus pandemic as a “great and powerful plague” which had come to destroy the world, but America would rise from this “death and destruction” to become “greater than ever before.” One particular response on Facebook read “God chose you, Mr. President… you are working unto God, not unto men.” The confluence of spiking death tolls and a plague of biblical proportion created a moment of disillusionment where zealotry, and even millenarian thinking, could thrive. Millenarian movements are based on critiques of power culminating in social protests against oppressive systems. In New Heaven New Earth, Professor Kenelm Burridge analyzes millenarian movements, highlighting the ways in which the millenarian critiques initiate a “redemptive process” in which the old moral order is cast off to make way for a new society. At the heart of the millenarian movement is the prophet, whose divine revelations almost always refer to a prosperity and prestige that define the new conditions of being, the new social order.

Could Trumpism be analyzed as a millenarian movement? Can this help us predict the future of Trump’s base, post-Trump? Burridge simplifies the millenarian pattern into three phases which help us to better understand millenarian movements and their application to Trump: feelings of disenfranchisement, battle with oppressors, and triumph of the new order.

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