Skip to main content

Withdrawn Module: Invisible Worlds: Belief and the Supernatural in Post-Reformation Britain (HI31A)

SupernaturalPlease note that this module was available
until 2011, but has since been
withdrawn and is no longer available.


Tutor: Professor Peter Marshall

This undergraduate final-year Advanced Option module involves the study of broad-ranging themes in a comparative and/or interdisciplinary context. It aims to explore the meaning and importance of beliefs about the ‘supernatural’ over the century and a half following the establishment of the Protestant Reformations in England, Wales and Scotland. It covers some of the topics surveyed a generation ago in Keith Thomas’s classic study Religion and the Decline of Magic, and reviews them in the light of more recent research and new scholarly advances. For the purposes of this module, the ‘supernatural’ signifies the realm of discourse and experience within which the inhabitants of the material world gained access to, or interacted with, otherworldly forces.

Topics to be studied will include attitudes towards classes of supernatural beings, like angels, ghosts, and fairies; towards forms of access to hidden knowledge or power, such as witchcraft, magical healing, divination, astrology, second-sight and prophecy; beliefs about the power of special times, seasons and places, and about the meaning of ‘providential’ signs and wonders. The ‘ordinary’ devotional and church-going life of early modern British Christians will be context to rather than content of this module, but there is no intention to erect an artificial distinction between respectable and orthodox ‘religion’ on the one hand, and unorthodox popular ‘belief’ on the other. Rather, attention will be paid to the ways in which the ‘invisible worlds’ of the module’s title were an accepted, if sometimes problematic, component of wider contemporary mentalities throughout the period under review. A central objective of the module is to encourage students to undertake an empathetic engagement with some of the stranger and more alien features of past British society.