After reading my Q&A with Thomas Robisheaux, Professor of History at Duke University, Devourer of Books asked if he could make a reading list available for his favorite course to teach, MAGIC, RELIGION AND SCIENCE SINCE 1400. Tom sent me the syllabus for Spring 2009 and I thought that I would share it with all of you. Along with the course description and reading list, I’m including a picture of him researching The Last Witch of Langenburg at Neuenstein Castle in Germany. Enjoy!
MAGIC, RELIGION AND SCIENCE SINCE 1400
“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” —Michelangelo
Why is magic forbidden or derided, and yet pervasive in western culture? What claims does religion make about knowing the invisible world? Why does scientific knowledge awe us, and dominate western knowledge?
This course charts the relationships between these three ways of knowing in western culture—the magical, the religious, and the scientific—and their mutual dependence upon each other. The large issues of the course flow from the de-legitimizing of magic and setting narrow limits to valid religious knowledge during the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. This long, complex process of establishing science as the touchstone of valid knowledge about nature and human society will frame our exploration of several topics, including: Renaissance naturalism and the occult sciences, witchcraft and witch hunting, the Scientific Revolution, Christianity and Enlightenment rationalism, mesmerism, nineteenth-century Spiritualism, Darwinism and Christianity, the psychologizing of magic and religion in the modern world, psychical research and parapsychology, modern film and the supernatural, the “new religious movements” of the 1960s, the skeptical movement, modern occultism, and the satanic panics of the 1980s and 1990s.
Each unit explores the limits of what is, at any given time, considered knowable, the power religious, magical and scientific ways of knowing create, and the dangers of going too far. This is a course about the ways we as westerners move into and out of the visible and the invisible worlds, and what happens when those worlds cross in unexpected ways. The approach in lectures is historical, but course materials draw on works from anthropology, comparative religion, film studies, the history of science, literature, and psychology.
Dan Burton and David Grandy, Magic, Mystery, and Science: The Occult in Western Civilization
David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, eds, When Science and Christianity Meet
Armand M. Nicoli, The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life
Thomas Robisheaux, The Last Witch of Langenburg
Stephen Shapin, The Scientific Revolution
Lawrence Wright, Remembering Satan