Offshoring the invisible world? American ghosts, witches, and demons in the early enlightenment

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The fierce debate about the reality of spirits and the “Invisible World” which flared up in the 1690’s helped define the early Enlightenment. All sides in this debate—from Spinoza and Balthasar Bekker to John Beaumont and Cotton Mather—refashioned familiar metaphors of light and darkness and connected them with the world beyond Europe in surprising new ways. This article shows how this key controversy of the early Enlightenment was built upon references to darkness, light, and the benighted pagan peoples of the world. As new street lighting and improved domestic lighting nocturnalized daily life in the Netherlands, London, and Paris, the old denizens of the night - ghosts, spirits, and witches—were increasingly relegated to the extra-European world and used to articulate new categories of human difference based on civility, reason, and skin color. These new categories of human difference—new ways of seeing and ordering the world—were essential to the formation of early modern whiteness and the Enlightenment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-141
Number of pages16
JournalCritical Research on Religion
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Balthasar Bekker
  • Cotton Mather
  • European enlightenment
  • Light
  • ghosts and spirits

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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