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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 bachelor’s 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 and alien invasions, 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, films) and legends of the occult; it focusses on how the intricate relations between history, fiction and folklore can lie at the root of moral panics as well as 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 and their journalist representations.

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 panics and even 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 MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Seminar

  • Research

Assessment method


  • An introductory group presentation to the weekly reading materials.

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

  • An individual research essay on a topic related ot th course content and critical methodology (70% of final grade).

  • A creative-critical group-project (30% of final grade).

  • Coursework and resit deadlines will be posted in Brigthspace in due course.

  • The final grade is the average of the research paper and the group creative-critical project.


  • Written feedback will be given on all coursework. Students can contact the tutors with questions about the written feedback they receive.


As shown above


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.


When the overall grade is below 6, the student will have to revise and re-submit their research paper.

Exam review

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

Students will be asked to study various secondary sources, which will be made available through Brightspace or the University Library Catalogue. These will include, but are not limited to selected essays, chapters or sections from the following works:

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

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

  • Dillinger, ed. The Routledge History of Witchcraft. Routledge 2019.

The primary texts studied, include:

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

  • Heinrich Institoris, Jakob Sprenger. Malleus Maleficarum [1487] (in Latin and English; transl. C. Mackay, Cambridge UP, 2006.

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

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne. “Young Goodman Brown” [1835] (Gutenberg e-text).

  • Heinrich Böll. The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, or: How Violence Develops and Where it Can Lead [1975] (Penguin Classics, 2009; or another edition). Your are expected to purchase this book, or borrow it from a library.

Films to Watch:

  • 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.


Students participating in this module will be enrolled in MyStudymap by the Education Administration Office of Humanities Lab. Students can register for the Humanities Lab modules about two to three weeks before the start of the module through an online form provided by Umail. On this form students indicate the modules in order of their preference. The coordinators assign students to a module based on their preference and bachelor’s programme, in order to create a diverse group of students and equal amount of students per module Usually students get assigned to the module of their first or second choice.
General information about MyStudymap is available on the website.


  • 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.