SRS 1110 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Moral Evil, Modern Paganism, Pedophilia
SchoolUniversity of Ottawa
Course CodeSRS 1110
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Witch Trials Lecture Notes
•small-scale societies — animism – the belief in spirits — reciprocal relationship to
nature — nomadic
•agrarian societies/agricultural – polytheistic — relationship between human beings
and nature more positive — more veneration of the feminine – popular religion —
practical religion – cyclical time
•urban societies — generally monotheistic — divine hierarchy near the social
hierarchy — patriarchal — conflict between intellectual and popular religion — male
intellectual elite against older customs — women holder of traditional knowledge.
•Not strictly linear process – vestiges of older patterns live on
Social Context of Early Modern Period
•harsh social conditions, and no science to explain them.
•Many contemporary societies have cultivated an extremely elaborate system of
etiquette and a compassionate discomfort with violence and death.
•This was not so premodern and early modern European societies.
•Even among nobles, table manners were rarely observed, there was a much more
frank discussion of sexuality and bodily functions, and torture and physical violence
were an every day part of life.
•When this is your context, it is easy to understand how you can become desensitized
•Vulnerable to fate, fearful, heaven is real, hell is real, and Christians locked in a
cosmic battle on the earth, which is repeatedly described as “veil of tears”
•not much separation between secular and spiritual authority, the church had
legal powers to prosecute with the help of secular authorities
•at the same time though, Europe had just gone through the tremendous catastrophe of
the Black death, which killed 20 million people.
•This created uncertainty in previous social intrusions, individual mobility (for the
survivors of the disease) — and was one of the causes of the Protestant Reformation,
a movement which forever questioned the idea of a unified notion of Christendom.
•At the same time that these things were happening, Europe also discovered new lands,
and this created a further crisis of meaning
•many intellectual Christians, on the Protestant and Catholic side of the debate, sought
inquisitorial methods, not only for the purposes of repression, but also because they
wanted to create a certain type of society; and this society conflicted with the rural
experience of many people
Scapegoat — an anthropological term meaning of sacrificial victim whose murder purges
the community of violent tension brought on by social crises not directly related to the
victim. Think about the context I mentioned above. Also, during the worst bout of plague,
Europe had killed a significant number of Jews. Nevertheless, sporadic bouts of plague
and other disasters, continued to happen, so we needed a new victim.
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