Publication of Witchcraft and the Modern Roman Catholic Church

My short book Witchcraft and the Modern Roman Catholic Church has just been published in Cambridge University Press’s Elements Series, as part of a sub-series dedicated to the theme of magic. The book deals with the Catholic church’s relationship with the idea of witchcraft since the Second Vatican Council, both in the developed and the developing world, focussing on official and semi-official responses to witchcraft and belief in witchcraft. It examines the treatment of witchcraft in Vatican documents, the differing views on witchcraft found in the writings of practising Catholic exorcists, and the relationship between Catholicism and witchcraft in the developing world (especially Africa).

The chronological scope of the Element runs from the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s to the present day, and the Element is divided into four main sections. The first of these deals with the historical background to Catholic belief in witchcraft. The second approaches modern Vatican documents, including documents by popes, documents issued in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and liturgy, especially the liturgy of exorcism and norms related to it. The third section deals with attitudes of exorcists throughout the world, drawing on exorcists from around the world and with a variety of perspectives, ranging from virtually denying the possibility of its existence to a position which is quite concerned about the possibility of witchcraft as a form of spiritual evil menacing the faithful.

Finally, the fourth section of the element looks at the issue of witchcraft in the developing world, contrasting some of the attitudes that are expressed centrally in Rome (and indeed in European dioceses) with the approach to witchcraft adopted on the ground in developing countries, where belief in witchcraft remains a major aspect of daily life for many Catholics. This section looks at the approaches adopted by popes when visiting the developing world towards the issue of belief in witchcraft. It approaches the phenomenon of Catholic witch-hunting authorised or partially authorised by the local clergy, and it concludes by looking at the affair of Emmanuel Milingo, the archbishop of Lusaka who in the 1990s was recalled to Rome for his use of exorcism and preaching on witchcraft, and looks at how the events surrounding Milingo crystallised the contrast between the western church and the church in the developing world.

This contrast is a theme that runs through this Element, which is about witchcraft but is also about the asymmetries within the global Catholic church and the way in which an issue like witchcraft, which divides Catholic bishops and clergy in their responses to it, may show the cracks and the conflicts that are latent within the global Catholic church.

You can watch a video abstract for the Element here.

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