Religion, Occult, and Science: Mystics, Heretics, and Witches in Western Tradition, 1000 to 1600

Paper, Order, or Assignment Requirements


Please choose one question from the prompt choices from part one and one question from the prompt choices from part two (provided below) to answer. I don’t care which questions you choose to answer; just choose the two that you feel you would be able to answer best. I’ll just go with whichever two you pick, review both parts of the essay, include more information from my course reader and lecture notes, and change a bit of the wording to make it more like my writing style. The answer to each part should be about 4.5 pages long.
Part I: Choose One

After reading Natalie Z. Davis’ The Return of Martin Guerre and after seeing the movie, what can you say about the lives and beliefs of French peasants in a specific part of France in the sixteenth century? What was their work like? What were their beliefs? What was the nature of peasant popular culture? How does the book compare to the movie? What is different in the book? How different and why?

In Carlo Ginzburg’s Night Battles, we see the encounter between ancient peasant beliefs and inquisitors. What is the book all about? What are Ginzburg’s main points? What do you think of the book and why?

The Italian Renaissance ushered a revival of classical culture, humanism, and extraordinary artistic production. It also led to the reception of ancient mysteries and esoteric doctrines. What was the nature of this knowledge? Why was that type of knowledge and what was its impact on the development of later European civilization? You may focus on one city. This question requires outside research from the books assigned in class or lectures. One good way to begin is Edgar Wind, Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance, Francis Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, or/and Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Do not tackle this question unless you know what you are doing. This question will receive additional credit.

Walter Benjamin in one of the opening excerpts in the Course Reader states that “there is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” Considering the themes of this course, the documents you have read, and the lectures you have heard, do you agree or disagree? Provide evidence for your answer from the sources.

Reflecting on the assigned readings and on the course lectures, discuss the development of the construction of the “Other” in late medieval Europe. How was this “Other” defined? Who fell into this category? What social, economic, political, and cultural forces contributed to this construction? What purposes did such construction serve? How did this play out in historical events? Be sure to provide specific examples from the assigned readings to support your argument. This “Other” here means old women, Jews, lepers, Muslims, and other religious, ethnic minorities, ill or older people who became scapegoats in the transition from late medieval to early modern.

Part II. Choose one

Choose one of the witch trial discussed in your course reader/web site. In light of Levack’s book and the lectures, what do these documents tell you about the witch craze. Please note the nature of authorship. Who is telling the story? Why? For which audience?

Outline briefly the main characteristics of witchcraft and in detail the development and history of the European witch craze. What are the explanations provided by Levack and in class? Do you agree or disagree? Make references to the documents in the Course Reader to discuss the nature of witchcraft and its evolution from the central Middle Ages to the early modern period.

You are a sixty-five year old woman/man from a small rural village in late sixteenth-century southern France. Under torture, you have just confessed to the local Dominican inquisitor your acts of necromancy and witchcraft. Tomorrow, since you are a relapsed witch/wizard you will be burned. In these last moments, what would you say about the society that has condemned you? About your own life? Give specific examples. Cite documents. Do not —- —-! 

When heresy trials died down, witch hunts increased. Keeping in mind the social, cultural, economic, and especially religious changes in Europe, discuss why this was the case. Provide specific references to your readings.

Discuss the beginning, the height, and the decline of the witch craze. How did these phases differ geographically? Drawing from Levack, make sure to give time periods and specific characteristics for each phase, and connect them to events occurring in the larger historical context of Europe.


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