Science and Witchcraft

Peter Elmer

in The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America

Published in print March 2013 | ISBN: 9780199578160
Published online May 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Science and Witchcraft

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  • History
  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)
  • History of Science and Technology



This article discusses the role played by science in changing the notions about witchcraft. For almost 250 years, the idea that the march of modern science was responsible for ending the era of the witch trials has held sway in academic and popular writing on the subject. At the same time, it has become equally axiomatic that the belief system which underpinned the legal persecution of witches was itself the product of faulty scientific thinking that was widely rejected as backward-looking, medieval, or superstitious in kind. However, this overly simplistic account of the demise of witchcraft was challenged by a later generation of scholars paving the way for a new consensus that has greatly diminished the role of science in this historical process.

Keywords: science; witchcraft; witch trials; persecution

Article.  6697 words. 

Subjects: History ; Early Modern History (1500 to 1700) ; History of Science and Technology

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