Witchcraft, modernity and the law

Research project
Active research
Project period
2017 - 2021
Project owner
School of Global Studies

Swedish Research Council

Short description

The purpose of this project is to study how contemporary witchcraft accusations and occult-related violence is understood and handled by the state and to inquire into what happens when witchcraft practices are facing the state system of law.


In the Ivory Coast, an increasing number of so-called sorcery-children have been targeted. In Nicaragua, a number of supposed witches have been burned or stabbed to death. The project will inquire into the manner in which the state handles witchcraft-related violence, and what happens when witchcraft practices are absorbed into the context of modern states. The project will study witchcraft cases and notions in relation legislative approaches and government policies. 

Many countries are today facing a clash between the spirit of legal universalism, based on a modernist idea of the nation-state and universal human rights, and cultural relativism, based on demands for cultural rights and “traditional” beliefs. The study examines this process whereby the state seeks to handle witchcraft and violence, while at the same time being sensitive to diversity. 

Research aims

The project aims to contribute to the debate on collective/individual human rights and cultural relativism/universalism and to a theory that is sensitive to collective and individual rights.