A Social History
The Italian sociologist of religion Massimo Introvigne, together with Americans such as James R. Lewis and, to some extent, J. Gordon Melton, must be considered among the founding fathers of the field of Satanism studies. Introvigne is not only that, of course, but also one of the major names in the study of new religions in general. His scholarship on Satanism, however, has not had quite the international impact it deserves for the simple reason that his 1994 monograph on the topic, Indagine sul Satanismo, is written in Italian (with a French edition, Enquête sur le Satanisme, in 1997) rather than English. The lack of language abilities among many of today’s scholars means that the work in question has largely gone unread. While his articles in English concerning Satanism and Satanism scares are important, this monograph is clearly his most significant contribution to the sub-field.
It is therefore pleasing to finally see an English translation edition, which is moreover expanded and revised to the degree that it is practically a whole new book. Having read the French edition, I can immediately state that this new version is superior in every way, and up to date in all respects. Introvigne draws on the explosion of scholarship on Satanism that has taken place during the last decade, and creates a synthesis that critically engages with all sides of the major academic debates concerning the phenomenon in both historical times (were there Satanists connected to the court of Louis XIV?) as well as the present day (how Satanic is Black Metal?). I may not agree fully with all of Introvine’s conclusions, but his views have a firm empirical grounding, and are presented in a very clear, transparent manner. My only major gripe is with his definition stipulating that “Satanism is (1) the worship of the character identified with the name of Satan or Lucifer in the Bible, (2) by organized groups with at least a minimal organization and hierarchy, (3) through ritual or liturgical practices.” (3). I fail to see why solitary individuals developing systems drawing on Satanic motifs—Ben Kadosh in turn-of-the-century Denmark could be an example of this—or groups/milieus that are more loosely organized—such as the Black Metal milieu—should be excluded. The same goes for groups whose brand of Satanism does not include rituals, as is the case with some types of atheistic Satanists.
Introvigne has done an incredible job of scouring obscure journals and diabolical publications, both old and new (he has been collecting material since 1973!). At several points, he presents new facts by drawing on sources not previously employed by scholars. As already mentioned, he moreover actively engages with existing scholarship, which is also an admirable achievement. All too often academics, possibly out of laziness, tend to “forget” to read and carefully ponder what their colleagues have written. Not so here as Introvigne has left no academic stone unturned when it comes to finding relevant scholarship and actually integrating it into his own analyses.
There is much to praise here and, in summary, Introvigne’s book is the best, most detailed, and broadest overview of Satanism produced thus far. You are pretty much fully covered if you get this title along with Ruben van Luijk’s Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism (Oxford University Press, 2016) and Asbjørn Dyrendal et.al.’s The Invention of Satanism (Oxford University Press, 2016). If you want to read only one book to get a general grasp of what Satanism is all about, Satanism: A Social History should be the go-to option, with van Luijk’s impressive tome as a close contender. The latter is a little stronger in the portions dealing with Satanism in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, whereas Introvigne shines when it comes to present-day figures and groups—especially with regard to his international scope. With the aforementioned books, and with Introvigne’s work in particular, the field has reached a degree of saturation. While there is still room for a couple more books (a really good academic monograph tackling the religious dimensions of the Black Metal milieu is needed, and further work should be done on gender, ethnicity, and social class in relation to Satanism) the main ground has now been covered – or so we may to think, and I will surely have to retract these words as soon as someone finds a new, innovative angle to study Satanism from.
If Introvigne’s scholarship cannot be faulted at any point, the publisher should on the other hand be criticized for two major shortcomings. Brill has specialized in editions of academic monographs aimed mainly at research libraries, and the books are usually horrendously expensive. This applies here as well, with an approximate retail price of $255. Though the price is often frustrating in itself, what stands out as unacceptable is Brill’s recent dumping of the actual production quality. Firstly, their books nowadays seem not to be copy-edited at all. Introvigne has a good command of the English language but as always, there are several instances where it becomes apparent that he is not a native speaker. A quick copy-edit would have fixed this and made the reading experience smoother. Secondly, the binding of the book is simply appalling in relation to the price. The pages are just loose sheets glued to the cover boards and will come loose with extensive use. Older Brill books, by contrast, are properly bound and will last a lifetime. Yet, in spite of the poor quality now being offered, the pricing remains the same. This is not reasonable, in spite of what excuses might be made on the grounds of e-publishing and pirating eating away at the profits of publishers of physical books. A fine work like Introvigne’s, destined to become a key reference work not only in the study of Satanism but also in the broader fields of new religions and Western esotericism, deserves better.
Per Faxneld is a post-doctoral fellow at Mid-Sweden University.
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