- 東京大学宗教学年報 (ISSN:02896400)
- no.16, pp.15-26, 1998
This paper is a follow-up to an article published in the Annual Review of Religious Studies XIV 1996, where I described the chronological sequence of the Salem witch-craft trials and analyzed the positions of two Puritan clergymen. In this article I examine the role of community at Salem village and the relation of social interest to the witch-hunt. Though the witch-hunt itself was initiated by adolescent hysteria, the persecutions were fueled by a conspiracy of envious men attempting to destroy their enemies and to retain power. Their efforts were supported by the Puritan leaders, both religious and political, and resulted in the magnification of a minor disorder into a deadly tragedy. As Max Weber points out, social concern can control human behavior, placing it within the framework of a powerful belief, either religious or secular. Where belief in witch-craft is anchored in theological doctrine, people in unfavorable social conditions are apt to sacrifice a scapegoat as an evil-witch in order to obtain immediate effects. The scapegoat can be found anywhere; no one can avoid the danger of being accused as a witch or wizard in conditions of changing social values. During the Salem witch-hunt, not only the oppressed or the unpopular but also the rich and the respectable were arrested and sentenced to death ; there was no escape once they became targets of the conspiracy. An investigation the role of the Salem community at this event illustrates how social concern can be sanctioned and enhanced through the use of religious faith. The combination of religion and madness seen in the conspiracy in Salem village could happen anywhere, even in our day. Lingering belief in witchcraft warns us of the continuing danger of a witch-hunt that could threaten our freedom and humanity.