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From the Salem witch trials in 1692 to the alleged satanic ritual abuse of children in day care centers in California in the 1980s, individuals have sought to restore moral order by rooting out what they regard as evil conspiracies. In a thought-provoking if sometimes pedantic study, University of New Hampshire historian Frankfurter draws on religion, sociology and anthropology to uncover the reasons that societies publicly raise cries of demonic conspiracies to explain various social evils. During the Salem witch trials, for example, the fascination with and the terror of the mysterious Witches' Sabbat gave rise to a cadre of so-called experts who claimed to judge accurately the behavior of a witch. Both the experts and the defendants performed their roles in the social ritual of identifying and persecuting the accused. Frankfurter convincingly demonstrates that demonic conspiracies and satanic ritual abuse are simply myths of evil conspiracies that provide societies an excuse for bullying those who are already considered suspect. He observes trenchantly that those seeking to purge demonic conspiracies have done more violence than the devotees of those so-called evil groups. Frankfurter's conclusions will likely be hotly contested, especially among those who claim to have been ritually abused, but his judicious insights about the nature of evil in our world provide thoughtful glimpses at the ways societies demonize the Other. (July)
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Winner of the 2007 Award of Excellence in the Study of Religion, Analytical-Descriptive Studies category, American Academy of Religion
"Mr. Frankfurter . . . shows just how similar stories about evil have been. . . . [E]vil recurs in predictably familiar form. . . . Mr. Frankfurter outlines these repeated elements with illuminating clarity and wide-ranging learning. . . . Using the term evil, he argues, prevents us from understanding context and cause; it places something beyond the human and that's when trouble starts. . . . But when the word is applied to an act, we know just precisely what it means: There is no human excuse."--Edward Rothstein, The New York Times
"In a thought-provoking . . . study . . . Frankfurter draws on religion, sociology and anthropology to uncover the reasons that societies publicly raise cries of demonic conspiracies to explain various social evils. . . . Frankfurter convincingly demonstrates that demonic conspiracies and satanic ritual abuse bare simply myths of evil conspiracies that provide societies an excuse for bullying those who are already considered suspect. He observes trenchantly that those seeking to purge demonic conspiracies have done more violence than the devotees of those so-called evil groups. . . . [H]is judicious insights about the nature of evil in our world provide thoughtful glimpses at the ways societies demonize the Other."--Publishers Weekly
"[A] fascinating, even gripping, study. . . . [It] merits widespread attention and careful study."--Dale B. Martin, Church History
"[A] brilliant, if terrifying, study."--Dennis P. Quinn, Religious Studies Review
"Frankfurter explores the social phenomenon of belief in evil conspiracy throughout Western history from the second century C.E. to the very recent past. . . . Evil Incarnate quite successfully does what it claims to do, namely explore a social phenomenon, the way in which a certain kind of myth has functioned in different historical circumstances to produce social cohesion and to provide a medium for thinking about danger, inversion and otherness. . . . Evil Incarnate also provides scholars with a wide range of interesting avenues for further study."--Heidi Marx-Wolf, Bryn Mawr Classical Review
"Interpreting and explaining stories and activities, Frankfurter takes us far away and long ago. He also takes the reader through a lot of different ground with regard to the subjects of analysis, and thus he produces and uses many theoretical perspectives.... It does, however, make for fascinating reading.... In addition to his chapter on 'rites of evil,' I was particularly taken with his ritual analysis of the performance of evil."--Asbjorn Dyrendal, Numen
"This meticulously researched and clearly argued book questions the reality of evil and will be welcomed by those, including myself, who join David Frankfurter in casting doubt upon the meaning of this dangerous and destructive idea."--Phillip Cole, Journal of Religion
"Frankfurter has written an excellent account of how panics about Satanism have periodically erupted in Europe, North America, and postcolonial Africa. He pulls no punches in concluding that 'no evidence has ever been found to verify the atrocities as historical events.' The terrible irony that emerges from Frankfurter's work is that 'the real atrocities of history seem to take place not in the perverse ceremonies of some evil cult but rather in the course of purging such cults from the world."--Richard J. McNally, PhycCRITIQUES
"Frankfurter's book, Evil Incarnate, is a scholarly, interdisciplinary work grounded in meticulous research. . . . What is riveting, here, is the way the myth of evil incarnate takes on new shapes with the arrival of new cultural collisions. What is exciting is his non-reductive causal approach, and the fluid, multi-layered perspectives from which he engages his topic."--Sue Grand, Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society
"This is indeed a thought-provoking study and is strongly recommended for students of religion, culture and society. The discourses of evil are real in all our lives and understanding the dynamics that propagate them and turn them into unspeakable violence can liberate people and assist humanity in the journey towards peace and integration."--Dr. Rodney Moss, Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae
"This book raises many questions and provides some answers in attempting to elucidate the process of demonisation."--Michaela Valente, Journal of the Ecclesiastical History