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Since the turn of the millennium it has become increasingly common for general histories of magic and witchcraft to include a section on the phenomenon of magic in the contemporary western world, but the precise relationship between contemporary manifestations of magical belief and their historical antecedents is rarely explored.
Thomas Ahnert’s The Moral Culture of the Scottish Enlightenment is an unusual work. Little more than an extended essay, its brevity and lucidity belie the complexity and force of its central thesis. Whilst there is no doubt that the book represents an important historiographical intervention, it is rather harder to explain why or where it does so.
The first rigorous academic overview of witchcraft in Ireland, this publication is a very welcome addition to a growing corpus of scholarship on this relatively neglected aspect of Irish social and cultural history. For decades, St John D. Seymour’s Irish Witchcraft and Demonology (1) was the only academic text on the subject available to researchers.
Post-reformation English Catholicism continues to be a flourishing and popular field of enquiry. In recent years this upsurge of interest has been paralleled by an increasing body of work on early modern ‘superstition’ and popular religion.
This important work provides the first informed, well-researched and highly nuanced account of the fortunes of ‘occult’ thought and practice in England from the middle decades of the 17th century to its demise at the end of the 18th century.
David Bebbington’s latest book endeavours to shed light on the subject of Victorian revivalism by means of a series of case studies into various religious awakenings which took place between 1841 and 1880.
Timothy Larsen’s purpose in writing A People of One Book is to demonstrate the extent to which the Bible dominated Victorian thought and culture. He claims that this has yet to be fully grasped, and endeavours to prove his thesis by offering a detailed examination of how Scripture was central to the experience of divergent groupings in Victorian England.
Chocolate, writes Emma Robertson in the introduction to her monograph, ‘has been invested with specific cultural meanings which are in part connected to … conditions of production’ (p. 3). At the heart of this study is a challenge to existing histories:
Midst the foe, and the stranger she seeks not renown
She courts not their smiles, and she heeds not their frowns
Could she only impart unto childhood and youth
The science of God, of religion, and truth... (p. 110)
The competition between religion and recreation in the Victorian period was pointed out by Brian Harrison as long ago as 1967, and at one level this book by Dominic Erdozain, Lecturer in the History of Christianity at King’s College, London, is an exploration of how the churches came to terms with their powerful rival.