Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

RELS217 Religion, Science, and Magic

Beginning with the contemporary debates regarding creationism, alternative medicine, and witchcraft (Wicca), the paper examines the relation between the modern sciences and the worlds of Kabbalah, alchemy, and apocalyptic religion from which they emerged.

In our own day, science enjoys enormous prestige and is clearly distinguished from both religion and magic. But it was not always so. The great founder of modern science, Isaac Newton, dabbled in alchemy and wrote commentaries on the Bible of a kind we would now regard as crazy. So how did science emerge from a world of mysticism and magic?
The paper tries to answer this question by examining two early modern thinkers: Giordano Bruno, who was put to death by the Roman Inquisition, and Galileo Galilei, who escaped the same fate by renouncing his scientific views.

Paper title Religion, Science, and Magic
Paper code RELS217
Subject Religious Studies
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2023 (Distance learning)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

^ Top of page

36 points
RELS 317
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Theology
Professor Greg Dawes
Teaching staff
Lecturer: Professor Greg Dawes
Paper Structure

This paper is worth 18 points, which is equivalent to 12 hours of work each week. Outside of classes, 9 hours a week should be devoted to your own study and assignment preparation.


  • Weekly Exercises in Class: 15%
  • Essay Outline 5%
  • Essay: 25%
  • Final Examination: 55%
Teaching Arrangements

On campus there will be two lectures and one tutorial each week.
Distance students will have access to recorded lectures and an online discussion forum.


There is a coursebook for the paper. PDF copies of the coursebook and associated readings will be made available on Blackboard. There is no other textbook required.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Information literacy, Self-motivation.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
Students who successfully complete this paper will be able to
  • Understand the premodern distinction between religion, science and magic
  • Understand the emergence of our modern conceptions of religion and science and our modern attitudes towards magic
  • Understand the echoes of these historical changes in our contemporary popular culture

^ Top of page


Not offered in 2023

Teaching method
This paper is taught through Distance Learning
Learning management system