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The European Witch Craze of the 14th to 17th Centuries: A Sociologist's Perspective

Nachman Ben-Yehuda
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 86, No. 1 (Jul., 1980), pp. 1-31
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2778849
Page Count: 31
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Abstract

From the early decades of the 14th century until 1650, continental Europeans executed between 200,000 and 500,000 witches, 85% or more of whom were women. The character and timing of these executions and the persecutions which preceded them were determined in part by changed objectives of the Inquisition, as well as by a differentiation process within medieval society. The which craze answered the need for a redefinition of moral boundaries, as a result of the profound changes in the medieval social order. The fact that these executions and the accompanying demonological theories enjoyed widespread and popular acceptance can be explained through the anomie which permeated society at that time. While these conditions provided the intellectual, cognitive background for the witch-hunts,economic and demographic changes, together with the emotional need for a target, explain why the witch-hunts were directed at women.

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