History | Haunted America: Radical Religion and the American Fascination with the Occult
J400 | 6652 | Andrews

Above section open to majors only
Above section open to undergraduates only

American culture is haunted. The first English settlers, looking for
a place to practice their own form of Christianity, brought beliefs
in witchcraft tucked inside of their leather-bound Bibles. During
the eighteenth century, often called the “Enlightenment” or the “Age
of Reason,” Americans maintained a constant and powerful interest in
the invisible, the magical, and the occult. In the decades
surrounding the Civil War, new religious movements flourished.
Religious and occult ideas preoccupied many Americans and were part
of the popular culture of the United States. Many of the greatest
works of American art and literature – by authors like Brown,
Irving, Poe, and Hawthorne – are gothic stories that feature ghosts,
haunted houses, and curses. Using secondary sources as well as
primary sources like newspapers, novels, and pamphlets, this seminar
and discussion class will attempt to understand and explain why
these ideas and themes have been so attractive to Americans. We will
also explore why new religious movements have found such success in
the United States and examine why Americans have held on to this
fascination with worlds beyond the edge of reason.