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RELIGST 15N: Magic and Marvel: Theorizing Religion Through Popular Culture

Meet the Instructor | General Education Requirement

Course Description

Though marginalized through terms like “superstition” and “witchcraft,” magic remained a ubiquitous feature of the United States sociocultural and religious landscape well beyond the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. From dream books to horseshoes to conjure, phenomena once termed black or white magic in Western European and early Anglophone American cultures became a part of an expansive collection of ritual and material practices that occupied the margins of American “religion”—serving as a foil to more mainstream manifestations of the category. Racialized visions of magical creatures and capabilities from faraway places solidified understandings of magic as the province of non-Whites and non-Americans, contributing further to the category’s marginalization, even as interest in spiritualism, mesmerism, and other metaphysical movements heightened in the nineteenth-century. The result was a religious milieu in which practices previously deemed “magic” became entrenched within some mainstream institutional religions and the categorical lines between magic and religion became increasingly blurred in popular culture. Beginning with the religious history of American magic and moving towards the twentieth century, this course explores the American fascination with magic as expressed through the Marvel cinematic universe. Together, we will ask questions of how magic appears in the popular imagination, its role in the success of the Marvel franchise, and the terms on which we define magic and the superhero.

General Education Requirement

Meet the Instructor

Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh

Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh

"Greetings Students,
"I am a historian of American religion whose teaching and research explore the intersections of race, religion, and gender in the United States and African Atlantic. While researching my first book, I became fascinated by the figure of the hag: a night-riding feminine entity who had the capacity to "unzip" her skin, shape shift, and terrorize enslaved southerners. Upon further research, I discovered strong similarities between the hag of southern Black America and witches of Western European, and thus began my journey down the long rabbit hole of "witchcraft" in America. As a historian of religion and race, I am interested in how such figures are racialized in the popular imagination, as well as how magic itself appears in various cultural forms. As the partner of an avid comic book fan and mother of two equally avid superhero buffs, I've noticed how "magical" practices and practitioners recur in popular franchises like Marvel. After watching the Scarlet Witch on Disney+, I could not resist exploring the ways histories of American magic and popular culture intersect in our imaginings of the superhero and superhuman."