The Function of Evil across Disciplinary Contexts
Contributions by Riven Barton, Jim Casey, Chu-chueh Cheng, Olivia Coulomb, Marion Duval, Jessica Folio, Charity Fowler, Jamey Hecht, Bettina Jossen, Julie Michot, Jeffrey Mullins, Sam Naidu, Joanna Nowotny, Karlien van der Wielen Edited by Malcah Effron, Brian Johnson
Publication date:15 February 2017
Length of book:244 pages
The Function of Evil Across Disciplinary Contexts explores answers to two important questions about the age-old theme of evil: is there any use in using the concept of evil in cultural, psychological, or other secular evaluations of the world and its productions? Most importantly, if there is, what might these functions be? By looking across several disciplines and analyzing evil as it is referenced across a broad spectrum of phenomena, this work demonstrates the varying ways that we interact with the ethical dilemma as academics, as citizens, and as people. The work draws from authors in different fields—including history, literary and film studies, philosophy, and psychology—and from around the world to provide an analysis of evil in such topics as deeply canonical as Beowulf and Shakespeare to subjects as culturally resonant as Stephen King, Captain America, or the War on Terror. By bringing together this otherwise disparate collection of scholarship, this collection reveals that discussions of evil across disciplines have always been questions of how cultures represent that which they find socially abhorrent. This work thus opens the conversation about evil outside of field-specific limitations, simultaneously demonstrating the assumptions that undergird the manner by which such a conversation proceeds.
Selected from among papers presented at a 2014 conference titled Evil Incarnate: Manifestations of Villains and Villainy, these eclectic essays demonstrate, as Effron (MIT) and Johnson (Cuyahoga Community College) write in their introduction, that evil “has functionally grown beyond its limited construction in the fields of theology and moral philosophy.” Essays examine evil as an interpretative category in pop fiction (Stephen King, Deon Meyer), mass media (television, comic books), literature (Poe, Shakespeare, Marlowe), and historiography and contemporary politics (slavery, Auschwitz, the war on terror). One theme running through many of these disparate studies is the use of evil to denote monstrosity and otherness of various kinds. Another theme is the problem of personal agency and responsibility. Two outstanding contributions on the latter theme are Jeffrey Mullins's study of William Seward’s notorious legal defenses of accused murderers in the 19th century and Marion Duval’s study of the sexualization of Nazi motivation in postwar French fiction. Many of the essays “lie on the margins of field specificity,” as the editors write in their introduction, and this very fact makes the collection particularly stimulating. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.