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Why Did Witch Hunts Go Viral?

If it is in fact accurate to think of witch trial beliefs as viruses, maybe it would be helpful to study their spread the way scientists study the spread of viruses: using an epidemiological model.“The Witch, No. 1” (1892) by Joseph E. Baker / Wikicommons

t’s hard to make sense of witch hunts. Many people of early modern Europe and colonial America seemed to have genuinely believed that witches posed a serious threat. But if witch trials—like the ones in Salem, Massachusetts, and in European communities between the 1400s and 1700s—escalated out of control, with no clear beneficiaries, then why did they happen? In a new , philosopher Maarten Boudry and historian Steije Hofhuis argue that witch hunts weren’t “coordinated intelligent strategies with underlying goals,” even though it often looks like they were. In other words, they weren’t motivated by a desire to, for example, oppress the lower classes or women, and weren’t a

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