HIST 260: Magic, Religion and Science since 1400

Reader requirements: Professional background in one of the following: health care (clinical medicine or nursing); religious studies; philosophy of science; psychology (clinical or research); history, sociology or anthropology of science or medicine.

  1. Course Information
  2. Schedule
  3. Giving Feedback

Course Information:

Instructor: Prof. Thomas Robisheaux

Why is magic forbidden or derided, and, yet pervasive in so many subtle ways in western culture?   What claims can religion legitimately make about the natural world?  Human society?  The invisible, the supernatural or divine?  Why is science the measure of all knowledge today, able to inspire awe, and yet still can’t answer the questions people most want to know about: the meaning or value of life, the spiritual, super-natural or preternatural dimensions of nature and human experience?

This course charts the relationships between these three ways of knowing in western culture—the magical, the religious, and the scientific—and their surprisingly mutual dependence upon each other. The large issues of the course flow from the de-legitimizing of magic and the setting of limits to religious knowledge of all types during the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. This long, complex process of establishing science as the touchstone of valid knowledge about nature and human society frames our exploration of several topics, including: Renaissance naturalism and the occult sciences, witchcraft and witch hunting, the Scientific Revolution, Christianity and Enlightenment rationalism, mesmerism, nineteenth-century Spiritualism, Darwinism and Christianity, the psychologizing of magic and religion in the modern world, psychical research and parapsychology, modern film and the supernatural, the “new religious movements” of the 1960s, modern occultism, contemporary satanic panics and the emergence of consciousness studies.

Student Writing Assignment:

What are students writing? Two essays (8-10 pp).

For whom? General, educated audience (Duke Community).

Where would such writing typically be found?

Why would someone usually read it?


The are the course deadlines, as they pertain to the Duke Reader Project:

Waiting to receive this info from instructor:

Assignments for DRP: Two 8-10 pp essays (mid-term and final) 

  • Tom currently allows about 2 weeks for each he’s going to see about extending it to 3 weeks?
  • He will get 3 examples of writing—likely from Duke Student journals; we can share these with readers
 Need to work out:
  • date for pitch
  • sign-up deadline
  • student-reader interaction timeline

Link to full Syllabus:

Insert if I receive one from professor

Giving Feedback (general information that will apply to most courses):

Giving feedback is the activity around which the entire project is designed. You may have considerable professional experience giving feedback on writing — whether to colleagues, employees, or other contexts — or perhaps this is an fairly novel experience. Given the aims and nature of the Reader Project, we are hoping that our volunteers engage with student writing in a particular way–one that is quite different from what is conventionally done in other contexts.

The primary aim of the project is to help students really understand what it means to write for readers, rather than as a school assignment. Think about the following when you give feedback, whether in writing or in real time:

  • Respond as a reader rather than as an editor. (They can get basic editorial help from others.) Focus on sharing your reactions to the draft as a user of such writing. What are you thinking as you read? More

Instructor’s response questions (things for the volunteers for this specific course to consider when reading student’s work):