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Study information

Magic and the Abrahamic Religions

Module titleMagic and the Abrahamic Religions
Module codeARA2016
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Professor Siam Bhayro (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module will enable you to explore the practice of magic – including ritual healing, love-charms, exorcism and beliefs about evil spirits, divination, wonder-working, etc. – in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Alongside this, you will consider theoretical questions about the nature of magic, principally what it is (e.g. the problem of essentialist definitions, emic and etic perspectives, ‘magic’ as a pejorative or othering category) and how it works (e.g. speech-act theory, magic as a technology). You will consider the relevant primary sources from each religious tradition, including written amulets, magic recipe-books, and narrative or didactic descriptions of magic activity. You shall also consider the history of the treatment of magic in modern scholarship, tracing the story of how a subject once widely dismissed as unworthy of serious study is now receiving the scholarly attention it deserves. The content will largely focus on the Eastern Mediterranean region from antiquity to the mediaeval period, as this will facilitate fruitful comparisons between magic in each religion, and also make the most of current scholarship.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This unit therefore aims to:

  • Give you a solid understanding of magical practices within Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the ancient and medieval periods.
  • Give you a broad awareness of the ways in which magic has been addressed in recent scholarship.
  • Introduce you to a range of sources which shed light on magic, and develop your ability to analyse them.
  • Further develop your abilities to express their ideas orally and in writing. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. apply and evaluate scholarly definitions and theories of magic;
  • 2. demonstrate solid knowledge and understanding of concepts and practices of magic in Judaism, Christianity and Islam;
  • 3. use primary and secondary sources to critically analyse and compare the nature and role of magic in these contexts;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. demonstrate strong skills in reading, researching, and presenting complex material relating to these issues;
  • 5. demonstrate an independent approach to designing, researching, and completing a research project;

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. demonstrate critical and analytical skills;
  • 7. demonstrate organisational and time-management skills and the ability to conduct independent study;
  • 8. demonstrate confidence in engaging positively with, and understanding, foreign cultures.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the precise module content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • What is magic?
  • insider sources
  • outsider sources
  • angels and demons
  • magical healing and protection
  • magic to gain favour and success (including love/erotic magic)
  • aggressive magic
  • wonder-working
  • divination
  • accusations of magic

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22One two-hour class each week
Guided Independent Study20Preparation of assigned readings for classes
Guided Independent Study108Researching and writing the assessed essay

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Detailed essay plan750 words1-8Written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1002,500 words1-8Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (2,500 words)1-8Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to redo the assessment(s) as defined above. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Yuval Harari, Jewish Magic before the Rise of Kabbalah (Detriot: Wayne State University Press, 2017)
  • Emilie Savage-Smith (ed.), Magic and Divination in Early Islam (London: Routledge, 2004)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

  • ELE – College to provide hyperlink to appropriate pages

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • David Frankfurter (ed.), Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic (Leiden: Brill, 2019)

Key words search

Magic, Judaism, Christianity, Islam

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date

January 2023

Last revision date