Society and the Supernatural in Early Modern Europe (seminar)

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This was a fall 2000 semester seminar.

If the intertwining of the sacred and profane was one of the distinguishing features of medieval culture, then one of most salient characteristics of the modern age would have to be its redefinition of the sacred, and, more specifically, of the relation between the natural and the supernatural. In fact, the rejection by Protestants of medieval Christian piety as "superstitious" and "magical" has long been interpreted as a powerful marker of cultural difference, that is, as one of the most certain boundaries between what is "modern" and what is not, between "enlightened" and "benighted" societies. This seminar focused on attitudes toward the supernatural among both Protestants and Catholics in the period 1500–1700, with an eye toward examining the relation of these attitudes to the very premise of "modernity." Readings in primary texts, in English translation, focused on the articulation of beliefs, pro and con, and on both divine and demonic supernatural phenomena in authors as diverse as St. Augustine of Hippo, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Pedro Ciruelo, Johann Weyer, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Maria de Agreda, Angelo Pastrovicchi, Nicolas Aubin, and David Hume. Topics will include miracles, visions, apparitions, mystical trances, levitation, bilocation, witchcraft, and demonic possession.

Director: Carlos M. N. Eire is Professor of History and Chair of Religious Studies at Yale University. He is the author of From Madrid to Purgatory: The Art and Craft of Dying in Sixteenth-Century Spain (1995) and War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin (1986), and coauthor of Jews, Christians, Muslims: A Comparative Introduction to Monotheistic Religions (1996).