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. The thousands of executions taking place in that period, with women as main - although not exclusive - target, proved to be only the final outcome of a long and complex scapegoating process involving social, cultural, literary, judicial, and religious elements as well as climatic and economic reasons behind the processes shaping such a multifaceted and widespread concern as belief in witchcraft with its related accusatorial patterns.
A variety of approaches will be considered to help the participants frame the problem of witchcraft within its rich socio-historical, anthropological, and religious contexts through an open-minded, comparative, and multidisciplinary take on a wide range of topics pertaining to the witchcraft issue.
The course will discuss the formation and the historiographical uses of categories such as magic, superstition, heresy, and witchcraft, the development of relevant rituals and traditions, and the scapegoating process through which the above-mentioned groups – such as the leper, the Jew, the heretic, and eventually the witch – were identified or modeled. We will also consider the gendering of witchcraft and the related issue of male domination, as well as the roots of ideas about witches and witchcraft in Greco-Roman traditions and in popular beliefs and folklore.
Particular emphasis will be given to three aspects, which are the analysis of primary sources, the discussion of modern methodological approaches, and the instruments and places for research. The analyses of primary sources aim to discuss the genesis and the evolution of the image of the witch through time and according to different cultural models, from Classical authors such as Horace, Ovid, and Apuleius, to the various Medieval literary and folkloric traditions, to early-modern developments, with the core role played by Heinrich Kramer’s Hammer of Witches (1486), and the juridical procedures aimed at identifying witches and making them confess to their alleged crimes. Modern historiographical theories aiming to explain the historical construction of witchcraft will be discussed and challenged, from Brian Levack’s systematization of the classical “cumulative concept” idea to Richard Kieckhefer’s new approach towards the identification of multiple “mythologies” of witchcraft, and from Carolyn Merchant’s consideration of the gender issue and the relationship between nature, the feminine, and the male domination issue, to Carlo Ginzburg’s comparative and morphological approaches that he has employed to study his Benandanti or for deciphering the witches’ Sabbath.
The faculty will present and engage participants in discussing their own research on topics including the relationship between learned systems and popular narratives, shamanism, medieval preaching on witches, the relationship between Classical culture and witchcraft, the world of superstition, witchcraft, and persecuting societies. The discussion of the existing variety of methodological approaches to the problem of witchcraft will give the participants the opportunity to develop a solid understanding of the methods, the sources, the interpretative instruments, the results, and the perspectives of studying a particularly challenging cultural/historical phenomenon such as witchcraft; moreover, participants will be given up-to-date knowledge concerning current research initiatives and opportunities at the international level in the field of cultural history.
"The course has enabled me to broaden my horizons and expand my knowledge. I really appreciated the decision to focus the course on interdisciplinarity and to go beyond the concept of periodization, covering a long period of time."
"The course allowed me to make corrections to my own research into the topic and provided a way to acquire additional sources."
"The course was very useful. There was a broad variety of perspectives and disciplines with the top authors in the field. I never would have imagined that studying gwith so many of the authors I have read as a hobbyist would have someday been a reality. Thank you for allowing me to enjoy this experience."
"I would recommend this course as it is a rare opportunity to have access to such eminent specialists in the field of magic and witchcraft research."
We invite applications from graduate/post-graduate students/scholars as well as advanced undergraduate students who have adequate prior study or engagement experience on the subject and make a compelling case in their application/statement of interest. invite applications from graduate/post-graduate students/scholars as well as advanced undergraduate students who have adequate prior study or engagement experience on the subject and make a compelling case in their application/statement of interest.
The language of instruction is English; thus all applicants have to demonstrate a strong command of spoken and written English to be able to participate actively in discussions at seminars and workshops. Some of the shortlisted applicants may be contacted for a telephone interview.
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