The Salem Witch Trials

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Why are the Salem Witch Trials still studied today?

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The Salem Witch Trials (1692–1693) concluded with the execution of nineteen people from more than two hundred accused. These trials, and the events leading up to them, are still studied today partly because the supernatural retains a strong hold over our imaginations, and partly because they offer a window into our own human nature.

The Salem Witch Trials are often held up and studied as a powerful example of the dangers of religious extremism and as an example of the dangers of scapegoating. Lots of the people accused were considered guilty of living immoral lives relative to a strict, puritanical understanding of the Bible. Many who were accused were also convenient scapegoats for problems beyond their control, such as a poor harvest one year or the death of a child during childbirth.

The dangers of religious extremism and of scapegoating are still relevant to our lives more than four hundred years after the Salem Witch Trials. Indeed, there are wars waged and acts of terrorism perpetrated every year in the name of religion, and we are still fond of blaming for the problems in the world groups of people who make for convenient scapegoats, such as immigrants and refugees. Clearly, we haven't yet learned the lessons of the Salem Witch Trials, so there is every reason, therefore, to continue to study them.

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