Superstition and Magic in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods – Call for Papers

Superstition and Magic in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods

April 20, 2018
Princeton University
Keynote Speaker: Prof. Michael Bailey

In an age when authorities attempt to assault our modern modes of critical thinking, the term “superstition” and its premodern associations take on rearranged values. Current political discourse denounces fake news and climate change as humbug with a zeal not unlike that of medieval and early modern establishments censuring false prophets and fallacious astrologers. Given these similarities, the classic narrative of a medieval society emerging into a modern one, “the disenchantment of the world” (Max Weber), urgently needs reappraisal. This conference proposes the examination of a wide range of evidence in various genres over time in order to foster this dialogue. In returning to the original meaning of “superstition” as an excessive fearfulness or belief, or a misapprehended and abused knowledge of a supernatural subject, how can we refine our understanding of superstition and magic in the premodern world? How can we make the overlaps between science, superstition, and magic productive?

We invite interdisciplinary submissions on diverse topics related to medieval and early modern superstition and magic. Some themes of the conference include, but are not limited to:

– Control and influence exerted by the Church and universities
– The historical development of demonology
– The Witch Crisis: gender and authority
– Elite vs. folk magic; paganism and popular religion
– Heresy and superstition
– Depiction of magical elements in literature and visual culture
– The impact of various religious reform movements, including the Reformation and Counterreformation, on belief, magic, and ritual
– Music and metaphysics
– Oaths, incantations, and spells: the power of words
– Natural philosophy: astrology, alchemy, medical practices, etc.
– Material history and archaeology
– Co-mingling of Eastern and Western traditions; book magic; Kabbalah
– Esoteric belief systems and the rise of secret societies
– The law: ordeals, witch-hunts, and policing of superstitious practices

In order to support participation by speakers from outside the northeastern United States, we are offering limited subsidies to help offset the cost of travel to Princeton. Financial assistance may not be available for every participant, with funding priority going to those who have the farthest to travel. Speakers will have the option of staying with a resident graduate student to defray their expenses.

Interested graduate students should submit abstracts of no more than 500 words to Sonja Andersen and Jonathan Martin at by February 15, 2018.
All applicants will be notified about their submissions by February 24, 2018. Presentations should be no longer than 20 minutes.