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Salem, 1692

The most famous witch hunt in history – and how it speaks to our moment.

The most famous witch hunt in history – and how it speaks to our moment.

“There were always personal issues at stake in Salem and, I think, in all witchcraft trials. We can talk about larger-scale issues like economic change or political conflicts, but witchcraft accusations always started out of conflicts between individuals.”

Donald Trump may declare his impeachment(s) “the greatest witch hunt in American history”, but that dubious honour has long been accorded to the panic that took hold of the New England community of Salem, Massachusetts, back in 1692.

Catherine Brekus, who is Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard Divinity School, takes us back to that iconic episode to help us understand the perfect storm of historical factors that caused it. She talks about what leads a close-knit community to turn against each other – and draws some uncomfortable parallels with our own moment, from conspiracy theories to the demonisation of opponents, especially women.

“I really can’t think of any woman in modern history who has been more demonised than Clinton. If you do a search on the internet, you will see all kinds of horrible pictures, you can buy T-shirts of her riding a broom. And this might seem funny – but if you recall, back in 2016 there were rumours that Hillary Clinton was running a child trafficking sex ring from a pizza parlour in Washington DC, and there was a man who literally showed up there with an assault rifle to rescue these children.”

Most of this material from Catherine Brekus is drawn from an interview for CPX’s For the Love of God documentary. 

It is available (with much, much more) for free in a series of short videos, for easy use in the classroom or sharing on social media, at www.publicchristianity.org/interviews/