Reviews least could not interact with and affect the physical world. Midelfort links this, however, not to agnostic or even Deist critiques of religion, but to a new and more scientific approach to biblical interpretation being developed by theologians, which maintained that the Bible, and crucially its overt references to demons and exorcism, should not be accepted literally, but rather needed to be understood historically. In his final chapter, Midelfort sets Gassner and the controversy he engendered even more broadly in the context of eighteenth-century modes of writing and polemic. Not so much Gassner himself but the debates of which he was the central focus can only be understood in light of the tremendous later-eighteenth-century increase in production of newspapers and journals in which not careful argument but rather sharp criticism and ridicule was the normal mode of expression. Again the point is that the Gassner affair was not atypical of its period, but instead illuminates, and is in turn illuminated by, essential aspects of Enlightenment society and culture. Gassner himself drops almost completely from sight in the final chapter, in fact, but it nevertheless serves as a valuable conclusion to the overall argument Midelfort has been building.
Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Oct 25, 2008
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