Witches, Monsters, and Madmen: Our Fascination with Evil July 24 - 27, 2019

Of all the topics that have flummoxed and fascinated human societies, few have been more powerful or pervasive than evil. Evil has been conceptualized as a supernatural force, personified by Satan, and as a profoundly human characteristic that reveals the inner demons of our natures. From cases of demonic possession in the early modern era to the inhumane atrocities of the Third Reich, the Western world has been obsessed with the questions of the nature and cause of evil.

Theologians continue to grapple with explaining why an all-knowing, all-powerful God would allow evil to exist in the first place; philosophers struggle to define evil itself; and psychologists explore the ways in which evil might be hard-wired into the human brain. This search for explanations of evil became even more pressing during the unprecedented death and destruction of recent wars, and inquiries are ongoing in the 21st century. Despite all the ink spilled in an attempt to understand evil, a definitive answer remains elusive.

Beyond the hallowed halls of churches and universities, depictions of evil permeate our collective culture through literature, film, theatre, and art. Plays like Christopher Marlow's "Doctor Faustus" and Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" encourage us to think about the many forms in which evil may walk among us. Several of our finest art museums feature paintings by Hieronymus Bosch and Francisco Goya that personify evil and its hiding places in a range of provocative and hideous forms. Novels such as Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and modern films like "Silence of the Lambs" force us to ask whether evil is better examined in the mirror than in the cosmos.

Meanwhile, in fire-and-brimstone sermons, horror films, haunted houses, and the occult, evil remains a staple in our cultural diet. Perhaps we need it. This program will explore our fascination with evil in its many manifestations from late antiquity to the present. Leading our faculty team will be W&L history professor Mikki Brock, with special guest faculty W. Scott Poole, history professor from the College of Charleston and author of Satan in America: The Devil We Know.