Tuesday, 11 June 2013

English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553-1829

Ashgate has published a volume in their series on Catholic Christendom, 1300-1700, titled English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553-1829 by Francis Young. In his preface Young writes:

'In 2009, in the course of research for an article on Catholic exorcisms, I was struck by the absence of any literature on the relationship between Catholicism and belief in witchcraft. This was a surprising omission, since possession was so often blamed on 'bewitchment'. As there was no literature integrating the study of the Catholic community with the history of English witchcraft, I felt it necessary to write this book if Catholic exorcism was to be fully understood.'

According to the publishers: 'In spite of an upsurge in interest in the social history of the Catholic community and an ever-growing body of literature on early modern 'superstition' and popular religion, the English Catholic community's response to the invisible world of the preternatural and supernatural has remained largely neglected. Addressing this oversight, this book explores Catholic responses to the supernatural world, setting the English Catholic community in the contexts of the wider Counter-Reformation and the confessional culture of early modern England. In so doing, it fulfils the need for a study of how English Catholics related to manifestations of the devil (witchcraft and possession) and the dead (ghosts) in the context of Catholic attitudes to the supernatural world as a whole (including debates on miracles). The study further provides a comprehensive examination of the ways in which English Catholics deployed exorcism, the church's ultimate response to the devil.

Whilst some aspects of the Catholic response have been touched on in the course of broader studies, few scholars have gone beyond the evidence contained within anti-Catholic polemical literature to examine in detail what Catholics themselves said and thought. Given that Catholics were consistently portrayed as 'superstitious' in Protestant literature, the historian must attend to Catholic voices on the supernatural in order to avoid a disastrously unbalanced view of Catholic attitudes. This book provides the first analysis of the Catholic response to the supernatural and witchcraft and how it related to a characteristic Counter-Reformation preoccupation, the phenomenon of exorcism.'

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