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Moral Panics and the Occult in History, the Arts and Journalism


Admission requirements

This course is available for students of the Honours College Humanities Lab.
Students in the first year of their bachelors programme who achieve good academic results and are very motivated, may apply for a place in Humanities Lab.


From seventeenth-century witchhunts, through nineteenth-century Gothic tales to modern-day rumours of Satanic subcultures, the supernatural and the occult have been closely intertwined with moral panics about the degredation of society and the corruption of youthful innocence. This BA honours course in the humanities explores the close intertextual relations between histories, artistic productions (stories, images, poems, plays, films) and legends of the occult; it focusses on how the intricate relations between history, fiction and folklore can lie at the root of conspiracy theories that have long outlasted the specific period and/or culture in which they originated. The texts in question will not only be analysed within their historical or generic contexts, but will also be approached through the lens of specific sociological theories concerning moral panics and folk devils.

Course objectives

After completing the course, students will have:

  • Knowledge of how fictional narratives can inform and foster socio-political outlooks on moral concerns that develop into conspiracy theories that colour everyday lived experience.

  • Research and writing skills in historical and formalist analysis of literary and other cultural texts through a sociological critical lens.

  • Knowledge of how fictional occult discourses can operate constructively in the development of extreme and often paranoid moral and political ideologies.

  • The ability to connect older works of literature/culture to contemporary contexts and to explain how knowledge of historical occult narratives can generate insight into contemporary conspiracy theories.

  • The ability to engage in informed academic dialogue and debate with others.

  • Advanced presentation and writing skills by means of a substantial research essay and two presentations.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.
Humanities Lab courses are scheduled on Friday afternoon from 13.30 to 17h.

Mode of instruction

  • Readings and lectures followed by group-discussion

  • Interactive student-led sessions based on creative-critical projects

  • Self-motivated study and research

Assessment method


  • A short introductory presentation to the weekly reading materials.

  • A research-essay proposal, which is given feedback but not graded.

  • A research essay on a topic related ot th course content and critical methodology (70%)

  • A creative-critical group-project (30%)


  • Research essay: 70%

  • Creative-critical group project: 30%


Attendance is compulsory for all meetings (lectures, seminars, excursions, etc.). If you are unable to attend, notify the lecturer (listed in the information bar on the right) in advance. Being absent may result in lower grades or exclusion from the course.

Resit Regulations:

When the final grade for the course (the average of the two graded components) is less than 5,50 students will have to revise and resubmit the coursework components they failed.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Selections from (but not limited to) the following sources, available through Brightspace or the University Library:

  • Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda. Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance. Wiley, 2010.

  • Stanley Cohen. Folk Devils and Moral Panics. Routledge, 2011.

  • Johannes Dillinger, ed. The Routledge History of Witchcraft. Routledge 2019.
    Primary texts:

  • Anon., Historia von D. Johann Fausten, 1587; original or English translation (e-text)

  • Heinrich Institoris, Jakob Sprenger. Malleus Maleficarum (in Latin and English; transl. C. Mackay). Cambridge University Press, 2006.

  • Elizabeth Gaskell. Lois the Witch, 1861 (Gutenberg e-text)

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Young Goodman Brown,” 1835 (Gutenberg e-text)

  • Don Siegel, dir. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Allied Artists 1956) – DVD/legal download

  • Philip Kaufman, dir. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (United Artists 1978) – DVD/legal download

  • Heinrich Böll. The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, or: How Violence Develops and Where it Can Lead., 1975 (Penguin Classics, 2009; or any other edition)


Students of the Humanities Lab will be enrolled in MyStudymap]( by the Education Administration Office of Humanities Lab. Students register for the Humanities Lab modules about two to three weeks before the start of the module through an online form. More information and the link to the form will be provided by Umail.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga


This course is part of the Humanities Lab programme, visit the website for more information.
Visit the Honours Academy website for more information about the Honours College.