Does Ideational Diffusion Explain the Rise of Witch-Hunting? Exploring the Spread of Witch Persecution in Early Modern Europe

Kerice Doten-Snitker, Santa Fe Institute
Steven Pfaff, University of Washington, Seattle

Prevailing explanations in the social sciences for the European witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th century focus on grassroots-level scapegoating for poor climate spells and bad harvests, on the one hand, or on state capacity and weak judicial institutions, on the other. Most accounts treat the demand for witch-hunts as a constant because of the putative universality of popular and elite beliefs in witchcraft. But does variation in demand explain spatial and temporal variation in the witch-hunt? Organized witch-hunting was enabled by the combination of folk theories of sorcery with new theories of demonology which posited Satanic conspiracies as the prime driver of witchcraft. These new theories first appeared in the late 15th century and appear to have been propagated by the new technology of printing. To test this new explanation, we analyze witch-hunting with data on the publication of demonological treatises alongside climate and state capacity variables.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 91. Interdisciplinary Histories of Religion, Economics, and Culture