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“Classical Witchcraft: Inherently Human,” a lecture by Dr. Phil Stevens

April 5, 2019
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm


Center for Inquiry – Transnational
1310 Sweet Home Road
Amherst, New York 14228 United States

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Organized by:
Center for Inquiry Western New York


photo of Dr. Phillips Stevens
Dr. Phillips Stevens will be speaking at CFI on March 29.

Witchcraft is (like magic) a semantically loaded word. The many meanings will be reviewed, and it will be emphasized that we are not talking about Wicca or other modern pagan religions. In anthropology the term means a system of beliefs in a set of powers vested in certain people, which enables them to do many fantastic and terrible things. The classical witch is an evil, imaginary being who operates without magic and without spiritual assistance. Beliefs in it are ancient, recorded in pre-Christian times. Dr. Stevens has enumerated fourteen attributes of the ethnological/historical witch, which he argues constitute universal human fears and fantasies. The “satanism scares” of the 1980s and 1990s confirmed to Dr. Stevens his conviction that the attributes of the witch are rooted in human evolutionary biology.

Phillips Stevens Jr., PhD, recently retired after forty-eight years in the Anthropology Department at UB. He received his BA in English from Yale in 1963, then went to Nigeria with the Peace Corps to teach English and work with the Nigerian government’s Department of Antiquities to document, repair, and protect the famous Stone Images of Esié (Ess ee yéh). Those experiences brought him into anthropology, and he entered the graduate program at Northwestern University. He conducted dissertation research in different areas of Nigeria from 1969–1971 and received his PhD in 1973. He has conducted subsequent anthropological research in West Africa and the Caribbean. He is the author of many publications in cultural anthropology and African studies, and he is the recipient of two awards for excellence in teaching.  One of his most popular courses at UB was in the anthropology of Magic, Sorcery, and Witchcraft;  he is right now writing a book on that topic. He lectures frequently to community groups on subjects of current concern. His most recent honor came on December 1, 2012, when he received an honorary chieftaincy title from the king of Esie, in recognition of his work there. Stevens has been a long-time member of CFI and a contributor to Skeptical Inquirer.

This event is free to CFI members and $5 for the public. Refreshments will be served.

This lecture is part of a series of monthly educational lectures hosted by CFI Western New York. The Center for Inquiry’s mission is to foster a secular society based on reason, science, and freedom of inquiry. We are a community group in Western New York made up of atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, skeptics, and other non-religious folks. We do our best to make a positive difference in the lives of secular and scientific-minded people and show that you don’t have to believe in a god to be good or to do good in the world. We have monthly educational lectures (about topics related to science and secularism) up in Amherst, NY, and social events (potlucks, cafe meetups, game nights, etc.) around the year.