Smith College Admission Academics Student Life About Smith news Offices
Kahn Chronicle Online

Sorcery, Witchcraft and Magic: A Pluralistic Approach


Elliot Fratkin, Anthropology

Belief in the supernatural is alive and well. Recent scholarship on sorcery and witchcraft has identified the widespread persistence of beliefs in both magical agency and supernatural harm. This is not only true in Africa, where beliefs in sorcery and witchcraft are deeply embedded in the culture, but also in countries where science and technology are more dominant in people's daily lives. For example, surveys in the United States show that 55% of adults believe in a personal guardian angel and 22% report having seen a ghost.

This short-term Kahn Institute project, Sorcery, Witchcraft and Healing: A Pluralistic Approach, will look specifically at the many ways we engage with and understand these processes of supernatural belief, exploring the meaning and practice of sorcery and witchcraft from different academic perspectives, including anthropology, history, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, sociology and other fields. Why does this kind of superstition persist?  What psychic work does it do? How do we assess the meaning of "causality" across Western scientific models and indigenous systems of thought?

The two-day seminar will begin with a consideration of sorcery and witchcraft in Africa, where these practices are widespread.  The project will be launched by a presentation from a Samburu (Maasai) laibon medicine man and his interpreter.  Both the laibon, Kanikis Leaduma, and school master Daniel Lemoille, will discuss the practices of divination, prophesy, sorcery, and healing in a public lecture on Thursday evening. The following day, they will join the project, elaborating on their work and participating in the open-ended discussion.  On Saturday morning, workshop participants will consider common readings on the subject of sorcery and healing, linking themes that emerge in the readings to the range of disciplines represented by the participating fellows.

Please join us for what will certainly be a fascinating and informative series of discussions.

Interested Faculty and Staff: Click here to apply for this project.


Thursday, April 4, 2013:

  • Public Lecture with Kanikis Leaduma and Daniel Lemoille, 7 pm, Neilson Browsing Room, Neilson Library

Friday, April 5, 2013:

  • Colloquium discussions with Kanikis Leaduma and Daniel Lemoille, dinner, 3:30-8:30 pm

Saturday, April 6, 2013:

  • Colloquium Discussions, 9:00 am -3:00 pm (includes lunch)



DirectoryCalendarCampus MapVirtual TourContact UsSite A-Z