Science in an enchanted world : philosophy and witchcraft in the work of Joseph Glanvill
AffiliationSchool of Historical and Philosophical Studies
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2023-08-18
© 2016 Dr. Julie Davies
This thesis uses the writings of Joseph Glanvill, as a case study through which to explore the relationship between the rise of experimental science and changing attitudes to witchcraft. Glanvill’s work on witchcraft, best known as A Blow at Modern Sadducism (1668) or Saducismus triumphatus (1681), was one of the most frequently published works that argued for a continued belief in witchcraft in the seventeenth century. Glanvill’s roles as theologian, philosopher and advocate for the Royal Society of London, converge as he engages with the theologically, politically and intellectually significant question of the existence of witchcraft. This thesis presents an extensive, new analysis of the many editions of the Saducismus and explores how it relates to Glanvill’s other theological, metaphysical and philosophical works. This new perspective on the Saducismus is enhanced by a revised prosopographical approach to Glanvill’s biography, which expands our understanding of Glanvill’s intellectual networks and his relationship to the Royal Society of London. In particular, this approach enables me to identify how Glanvill’s relationship with key figures, including Robert Boyle, Henry More, Henry Oldenburg, Mary Somerset, Robert Hunt, Richard Baxter, William Brereton and Francis Rous, influenced his work. My inquiries into the reception of Glanvill’s works beyond England and into the eighteenth century, have also provided valuable insight into both his philosophy and demonology. This thesis provides one of the most detailed accounts of Glanvill’s beliefs about witchcraft, especially in relation to the identification of his poisonous vapours hypothesis. Furthermore, it examines how Glanvill’s beliefs about witchcraft related to his broader metaphysics and experimental philosophical agenda. This contextualization enables a unified reading of Glanvill’s works that accounts for several texts that have yet to be fully assimilated into explanations of Glanvill’s thought. A unified reading highlights the importance of Glanvill’s methodology, which was closely linked to the philosophical ideals and experimental method of the Royal Society, as a recurring theme across his works. Indeed, I argue that Glanvill’s interest in experimental philosophy even permeated his approaches to metaphysics, preaching and pastoral care. I also argue that Glanvill’s success in unifying the religious, the supernatural and the scientific provides the key to understanding the widespread and persistent influence of the Saducismus. This insight, in turn, highlights how understanding the relationship between seventeenth- and eighteenth century epistemology and cosmology is fundamental to an understanding of the mechanisms that transformed attitudes to witchcraft in this period.
KeywordsJoseph Glanvill; witchcraft; Royal Society of London; Sadducism; atheism; Saducismus triumphatus; Blow at Modern Sadducism; seventeenth-century England; intellectual history; demonology; spirits; souls; metaphysics; experimental philosophy; eclecticism; Poisonous Vapours; Drummer of Tedworth; Scholar Gypsy; Plus ultra; preaching; Mary Somerset
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