University Academic Asks if the Devil Still Matters

Professor Darren Oldridge

Professor of Early Modern History, Darren Oldridge, will give his talk, entitled Do We Still Need the Devil?, at The Hive on October 31 at 7pm, in keeping with the spookiest night of the year, Halloween. He will consider the Devil’s role in people’s lives and beliefs in the past and whether the questions he helped to answer then are still relevant today.

“Few people believe in the Devil today,” said Professor Oldridge. “The most recent UK poll put the figure at around 10 per cent, which is considerably smaller than the percentage that believe in God. It is tempting to say ‘good riddance’ – but perhaps we should pause to think about some of the interesting and creative ways in which people have engaged with the Prince of Darkness in the past.” As an example, Professor Oldridge points out how careful thinking about the Devil encouraged scepticism towards allegations of witchcraft in England and ended the infamous witch trials in Salem in 1692.

To offer some perspective on the subject, Professor Oldridge will be comparing modern day depictions with the past. The talk will touch on a wide range of historical reference points, including texts and events from his work on 16th and 17th century England. He will also discuss several modern writers who have engaged with diabolical themes.

Professor Oldridge said that the concept of the Devil had contributed to western culture. “Belief in him encouraged careful self-examination,” he added. “This was because it was assumed that the Prince of Darkness preyed on familiar human weaknesses, such as vanity, moral laziness, self-deception, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy. So an awareness of his tricks made people wary of these traits.

“More fundamentally, the Devil helped to answer some tricky questions that have not gone away. For instance, why do we sometimes do things that we believe to be wrong? Why are we sometimes surprised by sudden thoughts and strange impulses, even when they repel us? I don’t believe in the Devil, but it seems to me that he was once a good way to address some interesting questions that we still face today.”

Tickets are free but booking is essential. The talk is not suitable for children.