Dr. Kimberly Stratton teaches the History of Satan course at Carleton University.
Where did the idea for the course come from?
After seeing the Passion of the Christ, amidst all the discussions about the anti-Semitism of the film, the gratuitous violence of the film, I noticed Satan. I thought, here they’re using a female actor to portray a male character, and I thought, what does portraying Satan in this androgynous, almost homoerotic way, say about homosexuality? Knowing that Mel Gibson’s particularly conservative, I thought this was probably deliberate, and started thinking about how Satan is portrayed in other films, and what that might say about the agenda or ideology of the different directors or the period of time in which they were done.
Do people get the wrong idea about your course?
I’ve gotten a number of emails that are hand-wringing and deeply worried that my course might encourage students to not believe in Satan, and that Satan is really real and a couple of people have sent me their experiences of satanic attacks. One woman was in the Salvation Army. I invited her in, so she came to class and brought me a Bible – it’s right over there – and some literature on Satanists. So there are people who really still believe in Satan.
Have you ever spoken to a Satanist?
No, I never have. I’ve never actually met a Satanist. I’ve read that there are groups that proclaim to be Satanists, and it’s not always clear. Sometimes it seems that it’s just a backlash against Christianity. They’re not really worshiping Satan, they’re just sort of inverting Christian symbols.
What are some of your favourite essays students have turned in?
I had a student last year who did a paper on Satan in heavy metal music. Black Sabbath, for example, said it was just a shtick to sell their records, they’re not Satanists, they don’t believe in Satan at all. I had another one on music as well, focusing more on the tradition of Satan in classical music and blues. You have the same tradition there of virtuosos selling their souls to the devil to acquire their skills, so it’s a long tradition, it’s not just a modern one. Almost all the papers actually have been very, very good. There was one that was very good looking at the witch trials and witchcraft, focusing on Quebec and the New World.