EXC 2060 B3-47 - Demons: medialities between literature and art, religion and politics

Basic data for this project

Type of project: Subproject in DFG-joint project hosted at University of Münster
Duration: 01/09/2023 - 31/12/2025 | 1st Funding period


In antiquity, demons existed between the world of humans and the world of the gods, often acting as intermediaries between God and humans. Although consideration was occasionally given to their characteristics and powers (Hesiod, Plato), the nature of demons was usually poorly defined. It was unclear – and actually largely uninteresting – where the line was to be drawn between gods, demons and spirits (Φάντασμα, spiritus). The Greek word δαίμων (daímon = demon) could thus be used as a synonym for θεóς (theós = god), but more often denoted the power of the divine in general. However, demons long remained ambiguous in terms of their materiality, characteristics and intentions, as well as how they affected the human body, emotions and the psyche. In Christianity, there were always phases when there was an increased interest in demons, with concepts being repeatedly redefined and sharpened. From late antiquity onwards, Christian theologians agreed that, as devils, demons were undoubtedly evil without their being able to steer people to commit evil acts. In addition, pagan deities, but also other preternatural beings (in Europe, for example, ghosts, elves, dwarves, trolls) were deemed to be demons. Demonology established itself as a field of discourse in natural philosophy, one that used emerging scientific criteria to discuss the nature and scope for action that demons had. Demons retained a certain ambiguity outside theology and natural philosophy, though, a situation that did not change fundamentally when demons experienced a new wave of interest from the 15th century onwards in relation to the belief in witches. Demons were extremely dangerous, but could also appear helpful, fascinating and even amusing in certain situations or on certain occasions; and they were depicted in this contradictory way in everyday life, as well as in literature and art. As people took the real existence of demons less and less seriously from the 18th century onwards, so began the era of demonism as a multi-layered and oft-used metaphor of modernity. Taking this as its starting-point, the project uses the perspectives of literature, history and art history to examine demons both diachronically and across disciplines. While the overall project traces the cultural lines of tradition, individual projects that are more closely circumscribed in terms of time will also offer new insights. They will analyze the ambiguity of demons diachronically and synchronically, and examine the resulting tensions in each cultural context. The project offers eight early career researchers the opportunity to work on their first research project. Theological investigation into the power relationship between humans and demons in pre-modern literature (David Schedding) Dimensions of evil: On the anthropological implications of demon narratives in the medieval period (Anne Maret Witt) Moral instrument, joke figure and spectacle: The functions of the devil in German-language devil literature, jokes and pamphlets of the 16th century (Alexa Winde) “Hysteria”, “melancholia” or “evil spirits”? Discussions about natural or supernatural causes for “possessed” women in England (1550-1650) (Emily Fehlemann) On the visuality of the demonic I: Demons in art (15th-18th century) (Kiana Tellen) On the visuality of the demonic II: Witches in northern Alpine art (c. 1480 and 1530) (Maren König) Witches and demons on the theatre stage (Dominik Schrage) Demonic gender relations in modern literature (Lynn Richter) A lecture series is planned for the winter term of 2024/25; an international and interdisciplinary conference is also planned for the summer term of 2025.

Keywords: Religion; Politik