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"All of them Witches!": Race, Gender, and Witchcraft in Popular Culture

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
July 20, 2020 - July 24, 20207/20 - 7/24M-F 3:30P-6:20POpenAshley Dun
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Course Description

She speaks in spells and incantations, is occasionally seen riding a broomstick or stirring a cauldron, and curses enemies and unlucky strangers alike. She is typically portrayed as white - though also sometimes green - and lives apart from society, either alone in the woods or among a coven of her own. Many in Western society know her by the name “witch.” This course explores depictions of witches and witchcraft in popular culture, which have been maintained in Anglo-American and European cultural imaginaries for hundreds of years. Across a range of literature, films, television, music videos, and secondary texts in intersectional feminist theory, this course will analyze how witches prompt deeper inquiries about societal norms through their very violation of them.

From fear of the Satanic - often articulated in tandem with fear of women’s sexuality - to anxieties about racial and spiritual otherness - which can be traced back to colonialism and Transatlantic slavery - the many incarnations of witches in popular culture have distinctly gendered and racial undertones. At the same time, in both fiction and real life, witchcraft is a rare avenue in which women are exalted and seen as powerful authorities who pose a serious threat to white, Christian patriarchy and its institutions. In what ways can the figure of the witch symbolize freedom, rebellion, and sisterhood? How do popular cultural portrayals and narratives of witchcraft draw inspiration from non-white and non-Christian religious practices?

We will interrogate the common notion that stories about witches primarily revolve around white women, and analyze how the genealogy of those we have come to perceive in popular culture as witches often draws elements from Caribbean, Latin American, and West African traditions of spirituality, such as Haitian Vodou, Santeria, and the Yoruba faith. To this end, we will also explore how the figure of the witch is reclaimed by women and queer people of color to explore themes of diaspora, mixture, and reckoning with the afterlives of slavery and imperialist violence in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

Examples of literary and visual texts we will be analyzing include novels like I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Condé; the poetry of Anne Sexton, Audre Lorde, and Barbara Jane Reyes; television shows like American Horror Story: Coven, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Charmed, and Siempre Bruja; and the films The Love Witch, Hocus Pocus, The Craft, The VVitch, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Eve’s Bayou. Students will primarily engage with material through class discussions. Other assessments may include short response papers and a final writing assignment.

This course is designed to foster intellectual collaboration, encouraging students to think critically about popular culture through an intersectional feminist lens, as well as form friendships grounded in productive, respectful, and inclusive group dialogue. In addition, students will hone close reading and academic writing skills, and learn to draw connections by synthesizing textual and contextual evidence. This course’s focus on overlapping issues of race and gender is extremely important for both academic study and in engaging with global modes of oppression that affect the lived experience of women and women of color on a multitude of levels.

Prerequisites: No prerequisites required for this course. This course is designed to be accessible to all high school students.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEEL1000
  • Length: 1 week

Program Information

Summer@Brown

Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2020.

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