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8 Witchcraft and Modernity

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Chapter Summary

This chapter considers the place that witchcraft occupies in the modern world, and how it is affected by older concepts. The distinctive feature of the early modern trials is that the Europeans who had held them became the only peoples in the history of the world to have hunted witches, changed their minds and rejected a belief in witchcraft. In that sense, the early modern witch-hunts truly were an aspect of the crisis of Renaissance and Reformation Christendom. As Stuart Clark has emphasized, there was no necessary antithesis between the rise of the new science and a belief in demons and in humans. In the perspective offered here, that is perfectly correct; but so is the older view that the development of a concept of a mechanical universe, and the demand for objective proofs for assertions about the nature of the world were inimical to witch trials.

Keywords: early modern witch-hunts; Reformation Christendom; Renaissance; Stuart Clark



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