||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
'Witches, Demons and Psychology'
Class Offered at UW-Eau Claire
MAILED: June 29, 1998|
Peek in the backpacks of some University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students this summer and you'll find books with titles such as "How to Think About Weird Things," "The Demon Haunted World" and "The Medicine Man and the Witch."
No cause for alarm, however, since all are assigned readings for an experimental class offered this summer for the first time titled "Witches, Demons and Psychology."
"This is really a course in critical thinking but done in a fun way," said Dr. Kenneth McIntire, the psychology professor who created and teaches the course. "I want students to be trained in evaluating things. There are a lot of claims made on television, the radio and the Web so it's increasingly important that students be able to critically evaluate those claims and weigh all the evidence."
Because most people no longer believe in magic, witchcraft and demons but find them interesting, it's a fairly safe topic area to explore in a lighthearted manner, McIntire said of the subject of the course.
The ancient way of thinking was full of magical beliefs, with witches and demons being at the core of the magic, McIntire said, adding that he's interested in comparing that ancient way of thinking with the more current naturalist way of looking at human behavior.
Students are looking at the Salem witch trials and will explore the history of belief in witches and witchcraft, he said. During a recent class, discussion ranged from the worldview at the time of the Salem witch trials, to specters, demons and the devil, to how the judicial system then compares to now, to testing rival hypotheses. Modern magical thinking such as thinking about ESP and alien visits also will be touched on, he said.
"I've always been interested in the mythology and theology of different religions," said Mike VandeLoo, a senior psychology major from Eau Claire who is enrolled in the class. "It's interesting because we're talking about the historical perspectives as well as the psychological perspectives of things like why people believed in witches and demons. It's not a critique of what happened but a look at why it happened and how it happened. I find that extremely interesting."
McIntire's selection of this topic area as a way to help students develop their critical thinking skills was a good one, VandeLoo said. "There is no right or wrong answers so it requires a lot of deep thinking," he said of sifting through the materials.
"Because even he doesn't know all the answers, we have to think on our own and look at our own belief systems," Betsy Hauser, a senior psychology major from Madison, added, noting that the special topics class was particularly appealing to her because it was so different than other classes offered this summer.
"This is a real adventure for me," McIntire said of the class. "It's allowing me to do some things I've never had a chance to do. I'm at a point in my career where I really want to learn more about history and to incorporate that into a class. I can do that with this class in a way that's fun and energizing."
Because of the goals of the class namely the critical thinking element McIntire said he has structured the class differently from other courses. For example, a great deal of emphasis is placed on class participation.
"The process is as important as the conclusion," McIntire said. "The goal of the class is to develop the tools the students will need in evaluating those claims."
"I want to create an atmosphere where students can freely express their opinions and beliefs," he said. "I want students to be willing to express their views about other peoples' opinions, and develop an understanding of their values and beliefs and really look at themselves."
While the class is just getting under way, VandeLoo said the topics as well as the critical thinking process already fascinate him. "Carl Sagan's 'The Demon Haunted World' which we're required to read is fabulous," he said. "I can't put it down and it's all about critical thinking."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: June 29, 1998