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Policing ‘Evil’: State-sponsored Witch-hunting in the People’s Republic of Bénin

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image of Journal of Religion in Africa

During the 1970s and 1980s, the People’s Republic of Bénin pursued a nationwide modernization project to hunt down and incarcerate the country’s population of witches. State actors came to stake the core of this project on the binary opposition between retrograde witches and modern revolutionaries. However, by licensing morally ambiguous cult leaders as state-authorized witch-hunters, state actors violated the neat oppositions of their political project’s modernist ideological framework and became part of the occult world they were attempting to eradicate. This article explores the use of witchcraft discourses and witch-hunting practices to organize massive, state-sponsored programs and to define national imaginaries of progress. By examining the practices, institutions, and structures that emerged from such deployments, this article demonstrates the potentiality of witchcraft to operate as a central component of large-scale political mobilizations in the name of modernity.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago 1126E. 59th St.Chicago, IL 60637, Email:


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