Shadows of the Mind: Discourses of Superstition and Nature in the Early Modern World

Shadows of the Mind: Discourses of Superstition and Nature in the Early
Modern World

Special Issue of Preternature
Edited by James A.T. Lancaster and Richard Raiswell

The advent of novel approaches in early modernity to understanding and
mastering nature - from natural magic, to natural history, to natural
philosophy - motivated discourse about how best to distill true knowledge
(vera scientia) from an increasing body of claims about the natural world.
The need to develop a language with which to frame this discourse
naturally led magicians, alchemists, historians, and philosophers to turn
to that facet of society which already possessed the terminology necessary
to deal with epistemological deviation; namely, the Christian religion.
The adoption of traditionally religious terms such as "idol," "vanity,"
and "superstition" by investigators of nature afforded the opportunity to
differentiate claims to true knowledge, at the same time as it facilitated
virulent attacks between rival cultures of knowledge. Beyond the merely
rhetorical, though, this process of adoption began to shift the
established semantic landscape of early modernity. The very act of
employing such religious terms within the context of the inquiry into
nature infused them with new meanings; meanings which contributed, in
turn, to the myriad new ways in which Europeans began to view both
themselves and the world around them. Of particular importance was the
notion of "superstition" (superstitio). More than many other terms, the
meaning of superstition began an extensive transformation from its
traditional sense of incorrect beliefs within the sphere of religion to
incorrect beliefs within the sphere of nature. Discourses of superstition
entered into numerous debates about the study of nature: they contributed
to the development of definable relationships between the natural and the
preternatural, for instance; helped to map new models of the mind and
legitimize the practitioners of new, naturalistic vocations; and
underwrote emergent ideas of "progress," "advancement," and
"enlightenment" in tandem with beliefs about the nature of the

This special issue of Preternature seeks papers which address shifting
conceptualizations of "superstition" as it relates to both the natural and
preternatural in the early modern period. Papers should examine the ways
in which various discourses of superstition contributed to the emergence
of new cultures of natural and preternatural knowledge, thereby helping to
shape the early modern world.

Topics might include, but are not limited to:

- The various ways in which the study of nature came to be conceived as a
remedy for the apparent spread of superstition in the post-Reformation
- How the concept of superstition was altered by emerging definitions of
"true" and "false" knowledge with regards to the natural world.
- How the idea of superstition contributed to the creation of a definable
relationship between the natural world and the preternatural.
- Whether new ways of thinking about nature ultimately led to the
trivialization of superstition and superstitions.
- The use of discourses of superstition in defense of natural magic,
demonology, witchcraft, and the occult, etc.
- The relationship between ideas of "progress," "advancement,"
"enlightenment" and superstition in early modern cultures of knowledge.

Final papers will be due 15 January 2014. Submissions should be made
through the journal's online submission module at:

Contributions should usually be 8,000 - 12,000 words, including all
documentation and critical apparatus. However, exceptions can be made in
certain circumstances. If accepted for publication, manuscripts will be
required to adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition (style 1,
employing footnotes.

For more information, please contact James A.T. Lancaster

James A.T. Lancaster

H.B.A. (Toronto), M.A. (Toronto), PhD Candidate (Warburg)
The Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Studies
University of London