Thematic Seminar Demonic power, possession, witchcraft and exorcism in late medieval and renaissance demonology
Course infoSchedule
Course moduleLET-GESB2202-CEH
Credits (ECTS)10
Language of instructionEnglish
Offered byRadboud University; Faculty of Arts; History;
dr. B. Roest
Other course modules lecturer
Contactperson for the course
dr. B. Roest
Other course modules lecturer
dr. B. Roest
Other course modules lecturer
dr. B. Roest
Other course modules lecturer
Academic year2023
PER 3-PER 4  (29/01/2024 to 01/09/2024)
Starting block
Course mode
RemarksAccessible to exchange students
Registration using OSIRISYes
Course open to students from other facultiesNo
Waiting listNo
Placement procedure-
After the successful completion of this course:

You will be able to conduct historical research under the supervision of the lecturer, which means that you can:
  • find, select and process relevant literature and historiography on a historical topic, in the form of a status quaestionis;
  • formulate a relevant, well-defined research question within the theme provided, and compose a research plan;
  • choose and apply a relevant research method;
  • conduct empirical research by means of finding historical source material in archives, libraries and/or databases; you are able to select, analyse and interpret those data
You will be able to
  • formulate and execute a research plan;
  • report orally about your activities in a convincing and scholarly manner;
  • report your findings in a scientific paper with a clear argumentation structure and adequate annotation, in correct English or Dutch;
You will be able to provide constructive feedback on the arguments of fellow students, and to process feedback from others in your own work.
During the Thematic Seminar, students will work their way through a complete research cycle mapping the historiographical debate around a given topic, designing a research questions, analysing sources and literature, and present an interpretation based on a sound methodological framework. This presentation will take the form of a scientific paper in correct Dutch or English. The topic of the course closely mirrors the research interests of the teachers. Your paper will be part of your Writing Portfolio.

In this Thematic Seminar, we will take a closer look at the ways in which people in late medieval and renaissance experienced and speculated about the alleged impact of demonic interventions in everyday life. This was connected with changing ideas about the power of the devil, and increasing fears about demonic possession, and the assumed collaboration of so-called witches and sorcerers with the devil and demons. The latter also caused a so-called 'witch craze', spectacular episodes of mass posssession, and new theological and medical genres dealing with demonology, exorcism and demon-induced forms of magic. This course will chart the main chronology and the dynamics of these phenomena, which had their roots in the closing centuries of the middle ages, reached their apex in the later 16th and early 17th century, but had a long aftermath well into the enlightenment period. This course will analyze the theological and anthropological underpinnings of these demonological beliefs, the at times horrific types of persecutions and interventions it gave rise to, and will deal with the wide-ranging textual legacy resulting from these beliefs and practices. It will also show how elements of these demonological beliefs became entrenched in popular culture, and from the later nineteenth century onward fed topics and topoi in fantasy literature and other cultural expression.

Presumed foreknowledge

Admission to themed lectures in B2 and B3 is contingent on successfully completing the following course, which is part of the writing and research skills track: Writing History.
See the Education and Examination Regulations (EER) 2023-2024.

Exchange students: Only admitted if you are in a BA-degree program in History (USA: majoring in History).

Due to the chronological and geographical framing of this course (the Mediterranean and Western Europe, ca. 1300-1700 CE), as well as its over-arching themes (Demonic power, possession, witchcraft, and the practice of exorcism), we recommend that you start this course with a firm basic knowledge of the social, political and economic developments in late medieval and renaissance/ early modern Europe. Moreover, it is obviously necessary to be enthusiastic about studying the way religious modes of thought influenced (and were influenced by) these developments. Also, please take into account that we will be working with primary source materials. While  we will start from available translations (knowledge Latin and late medieval vernaculars etc. is not required for this course!), we will do a lot of close reading- and discourse analysis-exercises, meaning that it is recommended that you have at least a passing acquaintance with such historical methodologies as well: the goal of this course will be to learn about and deepen your understanding of these methods.
Knowledge of Christian theology and late medieval/renaissance medicine, etc. is useful of course, but not necessary: this course will be structured around a number of specific case studies and topics, meaning there will be ample opportunity to contextualize and analyze the sources and the sources of those sources. It predominantly demands from the students to engage with the offered primary sources and secondary literature.

Test information
Paper kan in Engels of Nederlands geschreven worden.

Paper may be written in English or Dutch.
During this course we will encounter and engage with the tensions between religious life, theological thinking, daily life problems, and long-term socio-historical developments - and we will do so with an eye towards more recent cultural phenomena as well. Moreover, we will discuss issues like demonic possession, (discourses surrounding) the nature of evil and its relation to the so-called 'potentia ordinata' of God. These are not always the easiest topics to discuss.Take this into account!

Required materials
To be announced
Secondary literature (articles and book chapters), source texts and source images as well as the booklet Geschiedenis schrijven!, ed. Jeanette Kamp et al., 3e druk (Amsterdam 2016).
Title:Geschiedenis schrijven! Wegwijzer voor historici
Author:J. Kamp et.al.
Publisher:Amsterdam University Press

Instructional modes
Attendance MandatoryYes

Test weight30
Test typeProject
OpportunitiesBlock PER 4, Block PER 4

Minimum grade

Test weight70
Test typeProject
OpportunitiesBlock PER 4, Block PER 4

Minimum grade

Paper may be written in English or Dutch.

Paper kan in Engels of Nederlands geschreven worden.