Universität Wien FIND

240514 SE Witchcraft, magic and occult economies in Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond (P3, P4) (2021W)

Continuous assessment of course work

Participation at first session is obligatory!

The lecturer can invite students to a grade-relevant discussion about partial achievements. Partial achievements that are obtained by fraud or plagiarized result in the non-evaluation of the course (entry 'X' in certificate). The plagiarism software 'Turnitin' will be used for courses with continuous assessment.


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


max. 20 participants
Language: English


Classes (iCal) - next class is marked with N

Update 14.01.2022: On January 20th a film will be shown in ÜR.
Update 12.01.2022: Due to the current situation the course will be held digital until the end of the semester.
Update 13.12.2021: The course will be held digital until December 17.
Update 22.11.2021: The course will be held digital during lockdown.
If possible, the course is to be conducted in presence. Due to the respective applicable distance regulations and other measures, adjustments may be made.

Update 12.10.2021: Class at October 21st is cancelled.

Thursday 07.10. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal C, NIG 4. Stock
Thursday 14.10. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal C, NIG 4. Stock
Thursday 28.10. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal A, NIG 4.Stock
Thursday 04.11. 13:15 - 14:45 Seminarraum A, NIG 4. Stock
Thursday 11.11. 13:15 - 14:45 Übungsraum (A414) NIG 4. Stock
Thursday 18.11. 13:15 - 14:45 Seminarraum A, NIG 4. Stock
Thursday 25.11. 13:15 - 14:45 Digital
Thursday 02.12. 13:15 - 14:45 Digital
Thursday 09.12. 13:15 - 14:45 Digital
Thursday 16.12. 13:15 - 14:45 Digital
Thursday 13.01. 13:15 - 14:45 Digital
Thursday 20.01. 13:15 - 16:30 Übungsraum (A414) NIG 4. Stock
Thursday 27.01. 13:15 - 14:45 Digital


Aims, contents and method of the course

In ‘modern’ societies, witchcraft is often considered to be a relic of the past. The dominant image, instead, is that witchcraft, magic and occult economies belong to ‘traditional’ (and often perceived to be, irrational) societies, often situated in Africa. In this course, we will challenge such dichotomies, even if at the same time we may acknowledge that the literature devoted to – and maybe also lived reality of – witchcraft, etc. in Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly prominent. Anthropological texts on witchcraft, magic and occult economies, moreover, will help us to critically assess notions of rationality and irrationality. The course will show how the phenomena closely interact with questions of power, conflict, inequality, (re)distribution, envy, and economic gains. This will equally demonstrate that witchcraft, magic and occult economies are highly compatible with ‘modernization’ – in Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.

Course aims:
1) To gain insights into the history of anthropological studies on, and explanations of, witchcraft and magic and occult economies in Sub-Saharan Africa and their differences and similarities with contemporary studies.
2) To obtain (an anthropological) understanding of how witchcraft, magic and occult economies shape, and are shaped by, the redistribution of (scarce) resources, (economic) commitments, conflict, and anxieties (among others about love, sex and gender).
3) To be able to compare the phenomena of witchcraft, magic, occult economies and related aspects in Sub-Saharan Africa with developments elsewhere in the world.

We will start the course with a brief, historical overview of anthropological studies on witchcraft and magic in Sub-Saharan Africa. Next, we will explore similarities and differences with contemporary expressions and explanations of witchcraft, magic and occult economies and the extent to which these phenomena are unique to Africa. With a focus on a variety of themes, a key aim thereafter is to critically assess how developments associated with ‘modernization’ have by no means diminished the presence of witches, magic, and so on.

Reading literature, discussions, weekly assignments, presentations, and individual (reflection) papers.

Assessment and permitted materials

1) Each student will prior to every session submit two questions (and possible answers) based on the assigned readings. This will count towards 30 points of the final mark.
2) Depending on the size of the class, each student will individually or in a small group bring in additional material (newspaper cuttings, short videos, other publications) based on the theme of one session. They will shortly present insights emerging from this material in the respective session. This will count towards 30 points of the final mark.
3) Each student will write an individual paper of 3,500 to 5,000 words in which they will reflect upon a number of the assigned readings and/or additional literature (with the help of a proper research question), to be handed in at the end of the course. This will count towards 40 points of the final mark.

NB. Please note, all written assignments will be checked with anti-plagiarism software.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

1) Presence and active participation in the seminar.
2) With prior notification and a valid reason, an absence of a maximum two session, i.e. approximately 20% of the total hours, will be allowed.
3) All assignments have to be completed.
4) In the case of group assignments, each student should have an active and fair contribution to the assignment (all students involved in a particular group have to be present during their presentation/assignment; hence, they cannot request absence apart from for very important reasons).

Examination topics

Reading list

* Graham, Elizabeth. 2018. Do you believe in magic? Material Religion 14 (2): 255–257.
* Moro, Pamela A. 2018. Witchcraft, sorcery, and magic. The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology: 1–9.
* Ardener, Edwin. 2013 [1970]. Witchcraft economics, and the continuity of belief. In: M. Douglas (ed.), Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations. London: Routledge, pp. 141–160.
* Evans-Pritchard, Edward Evans. 1976 [1937]. Witchcraft is an organic hereditary phenomenon [and] The notion of witchcraft explains unfortunate events [and] Sufferers from misfortune seek for witches among their enemies. In: E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 1–55.
* Douglas, Mary. 1970. Introduction: Thirty Years after Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic. In: M. Douglas (ed.), Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations. London: Routledge, pp. xiii–xxxviii.
* Gluckman, Max. 1963. The magic of despair. In: M. Gluckman, Order and Rebellion in Tribal Africa. London: Cohen & West, pp. 137–145.
* Geschiere, Peter. 2019. Shifting figures of the witch in colonial and postcolonial Africa. In: J. Dillinger (ed.), The Routledge History of Witchcraft. London: Routledge, pp. 299–316.
* Smith, James H. 2019. Witchcraft in Africa. In: R.R. Grinker, S.C. Lubkemann, C.B. Steiner and E. Gonçalves (eds.), A Companion to the Anthropology of Africa. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 63–79.
* Comaroff, Jean and John L. and Comaroff. 1993. Introduction. In: J. Comaroff and J.L. Comaroff (eds.), Modernity and its Malcontents: Ritual and Power in Postcolonial Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. xi–xxxvii.
* Comaroff, Jean and John L. Comaroff. 1999. Occult economies and the violence of abstraction: Notes from the South African postcolony. American ethnologist 26 (2): 279–303.
* Comaroff, Jean and John L. Comaroff. 2018. Occult economies, revisited. In: B. Moeran and T. de Waal Malefyt (eds.), Magical Capitalism: Enchantment, Spells, and Occult Practices in Contemporary Economies. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 289–320.
* Comaroff, Jean and John L. Comaroff. 2002. Alien-nation: Zombies, immigrants, and millennial capitalism. The South Atlantic Quarterly 101 (4): 779–805.
* Kroesbergen-Kamps, Johanneke. 2020. Witchcraft after modernity: Old and new directions in the study of witchcraft in Africa. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 10 (3): 860–873.
* Cornish, Helen. 2009. Spelling out history: Transforming witchcraft past and present. The Pomegranate 11 (1): 14–28.
* Favret-Saada, Jeanne. 1980. The way things are said. In: J. Favret-Saada, Deadly Words: Witchcraft in the Bocage. Cambridge and Paris: Cambridge University Press and Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, pp. 3–12.
* Dobler, Gregor. 2015. Fatal Words: Restudying Jeanne Favret-Saada. Anthropology of this Century 13.
* Mencej, Mirjam. 2017. Contemporary European witchcraft. In: M. Mencej, tyrian Witches in European Perspective: Ethnographic Fieldwork. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 23–33.
* Kapferer, Bruce. 2003. Introduction. In: B. Kapferer (ed.), Beyond Rationalism: Rethinking Magic, Witchcraft and Sorcery. New York: Berghahn Books,

Association in the course directory

Last modified: We 15.03.2023 00:22