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RELS317 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 RELS317
Subject Religious Studies
EFTS 0.1500
Points 18 points
Teaching period First Semester
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $868.95
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $3,656.70

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18 200-level RELS or RELX points
RELS 217
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Theology
Professor Greg Dawes
Teaching staff
Lecturer: Professor Greg Dawes
Paper Structure
The paper is worth 18 points, which is equivalent to 12 hours of work each week. Outside of lectures, 10 hours a week should be devoted to your own study and assignment preparation.

  • Test - 10%
  • Essay - 25%
  • Final Examination - 65%
Teaching Arrangements
On campus there are two lectures (each one hour) per week.
There is a reader for the paper. The readings will be the basis for tutorial discussions during the first half of the semester. There is no other textbook required.
Course outline
View the course outline for RELS 317
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 magic and our modern attitudes towards magic
  • Understand the echoes of these historical changes in our contemporary popular culture

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First Semester

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
L1 Monday 10:00-10:50 9-13, 15-22
Friday 10:00-10:50 9-12, 15-22