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Reviewed by:
  • Religion und Magie in Ostmitteleuropa: Spielräume theologischer Normierungsprozesse in Spätmittelalter und Früher Neuzeit
  • Michael D. Bailey
Thomas Wünsch , ed. Religion und Magie in Ostmitteleuropa: Spielräume theologischer Normierungsprozesse in Spätmittelalter und Früher Neuzeit. Religions- und Kulturgeschichte in Ostmittel- und Südosteuropa 8. Münster: LIT Verlag, 2006. Pp. ii + 339.

In his introduction to this collection of articles based on papers delivered at a conference in Passau in 2004, Thomas Wünsch asserts that magic was an "integral aspect" of religion in premodern Europe (p. 2). The overriding goal of this collection is to demonstrate that, for most of European history, magic and religion were not sharply divided and competing realms. With the caveat that religious authorities throughout medieval and early modern Europe did, in fact, regard practices they labeled as magical or superstitious as being profoundly irreligious or antireligious, the essential interrelatedness of "magical" and "religious" practices will come as no surprise to most readers of this journal.

The other goal of this collection is to bring greater attention in Western European and North American academic circles to work being done on Central and Eastern Europe. While all the articles are written in either German or English, many of the authors hail from Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. In the two decades since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the reintegration of scholars from former east bloc lands into the Western scholarly community has been a laudable goal, pursued with particular diligence by German academics. This reintegration helps efface the historically unprecedented but obviously now strongly entrenched perception of a sharp bifurcation running through the middle of Europe and reestablishes a cultural zone extending from Budapest and Vienna through Prague and Krakow to the Baltic Sea. In the medieval and early modern period, this zone, now often called Central Europe (or here "east-central Europe"), formed the eastern edge of Latin Christendom, and, while showing some distinct social and cultural features, had strong links to the west.

Again in the introduction, Wünsch notes that this region was, naturally enough, characterized by a later Christianization than Western Europe, but that by the late medieval period it had "caught up" and exhibited many of the same features, especially in terms of religious culture (religious reform and so forth), that were evident in more western lands. While episcopal authorities might continue to decry a residue of paganism they claimed to have endured in these regions, Wünsch follows Dieter Harmening in asserting that this was mostly just standard rhetoric drawn from earlier Christian polemics. Oddly, then, one enters this volume wondering what the basis for the regional focus is, aside from the obvious modern divisions. This is reinforced [End Page 233] by the organization, which is not topical or chronological, but rather geographical. The volume begins with articles on Austria, then Bohemia, then Poland, then Hungary, and finally the southern Balkans. Sometimes this organization works, or at least causes no obvious problems, but at other points disjunctures are evident.

Consider the first several articles. In the first, Richard Kieckhefer reexamines the famous Innsbruck witch trial of 1485, conducted by Heinrich Kramer, who would go on to write Malleus maleficarum shortly thereafter. His careful examination discloses new aspects of a trial that, for all its particularity, is nevertheless fairly characteristic of elite demonological concerns and witch-hunting energies stemming from more western Alpine lands. The second article, by Martin Scheutz, examines traditions of magical treasure-seeking in Austrian lands in the eighteenth century, evident among various social groups but mainly located at the lower, poorer end of the social spectrum. The only real unity between these two fine pieces of historical analysis is that they happen both to fall within Austrian borders. The third article returns us to the late medieval period, and to a more elevated, courtly context, focusing on the imperial court in Prague, but here we have moved into the "Bohemian" section of the volume.

Few of the articles that focus on elite levels of society draw any sharp distinction between the regions on which they focus and other areas of Europe. How could they? Imperial Prague and Vienna were...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5111
Print ISSN
1556-8547
Pages
pp. 233-236
Launched on MUSE
2008-10-25
Open Access
No
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