David Frankfurter, professor of history and religious studies at the University of New Hampshire, will lecture on “Imagining Evil Conspiracy: Terror, Fascination and Prurience from Early Christian Cannibalism to Satanic Ritual Abuse,” at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 in Pannell Gallery at Sweet Briar College.
Through the ages, rumors of evil rituals carried out in the name of spiritual beliefs have sparked collective fear among people. Describing his planned talk at Sweet Briar, Frankfurter pointed to one of the most recent cases, the satanic ritual abuse panic of the 1980s and 90s in the United States.
“[The panic] brought to the national mind fantasies about secret cannibalistic devil-worshippers that go back two thousand years to rumors about Jews and early Christians under the Roman Empire,” he wrote in an e-mail.
He says the same ideas came up through the Middle Ages and Renaissance in the form of the Jewish “blood libel” and the witch hunts. “In every case, people have been certain that such cults exist and prey on children and society, and evidence has been concocted to prove their existence, leading to the incarceration or death of many thousands of innocent people.”
Frankfurter asks why such rumors persist even into modern secular society, and how these episodes can be compared across different historical periods.
“These are the questions that motivate this lecture,” he said.
Frankfurter is the author of several books. His latest publication, “Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History,” won the 2007 American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in Religion in Analytical-Descriptive Studies. He also is the 2007-08 Lillian Gollay Knafel Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.
Copies of “Evil Incarnate” will be available for purchase at a signing after the lecture.
The event is free and open to the public. Contact Cathy Gutierrez at 381-6249 or[email protected] for more information.