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Witchcraft, astrology, divination and every kind of popular magic flourished in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, from the belief that a blessed amulet could prevent the assaults of the Devil to the use of the same charms to recover stolen goods. At the same time the Protestant Reformation attempted to take the magic out of religion, and scientists were developing new explanations of the universe. Keith Thomas's classic analysis of beliefs held on every level of English society begins with the collapse of the medieval Church and ends with the changing intellectual atmosphere around 1700, when science and rationalism began to challenge the older systems of belief.
Keith Thomas's classic study of all forms of popular belief has been influential for so long now that it is difficult to remember how revolutionary it seemed when it first appeared. By publishing Religion and the Decline of Magic, Thomas became the first serious scholar to attempt to synthesize the full range of popular thought about the occult and the supernatural, studying its influence across Europe over several centuries. At root, his book can be seen as a superb exercise in problem-solving: one that actually established "magic" as a historical problem worthy of investigation. Thomas asked productive questions, not least challenging the prevailing assumption that folk belief was unworthy of serious scholarly attention, and his work usefully reframed the existing debate in much broader terms, allowing for more extensive exploration of correlations, not only between different sorts of popular belief, but also between popular belief and state religion. It was this that allowed Thomas to reach his famous conclusion that the advent of Protestantism – which drove out much of the "superstition" that characterised the Catholicism of the period – created a vacuum filled by other forms of belief; for example, Catholic priests had once blessed their crops, but Protestants refused to do so. That left farmers looking for other ways of ensuring a good harvest. It was this, Thomas argues, that explains the survival of what we now think of as "magic" at a time such beliefs might have been expected to decline – at least until science arose to offer alternative paradigms.
These most recent essays of the late Bob Scribner show his original and provocative views as a historian on the German Reformation. Subjects covered include popular culture, art, literacy, Anabaptism, witchcraft, Protestantism and magic.
An up-to-date account of the present state of scholarship on early modern European witchcraft.
Here is a provocative analysis of culture in all of its variety, including especially the relationship of religion and Christianity to culture. Lamin Sanneh advocates reconnecting religion and Christianity to culture, realizing that humanity without a sense of transcendence cannot really achieve a fulfillment that is anything but "murky self-centeredness." According to Sanneh, in light of the exigencies of postmodern times world Christianity would do well to embrace an alternative vision - one of global neighborliness - and then effectively model that vision as the new humanity for the twenty-first century and beyond.
Superstition and Magic in Early Modern Europe brings together a rich selection of essays which represent the most important historical research on religion, magic and superstition in early modern Europe. Each essay makes a significant contribution to the history of magic and religion in its own right, while together they demonstrate how debates over the topic have evolved over time, providing invaluable intellectual, historical, and socio-political context for readers approaching the subject for the first time. The essays are organised around five key themes and areas of controversy. Part One tackles superstition; Part Two, the tension between miracles and magic; Part Three, ghosts and apparitions; Part Four, witchcraft and witch trials; and Part Five, the gradual disintegration of the 'magical universe' in the face of scientific, religious and practical opposition. Each part is prefaced by an introduction that provides an outline of the historiography and engages with recent scholarship and debate, setting the context for the essays that follow and providing a foundation for further study. This collection is an invaluable toolkit for students of early modern Europe, providing both a focused overview and a springboard for broader thinking about the underlying continuities and discontinuities that make the study of magic and superstition a perennially fascinating topic.

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