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What is a ghost and what does it mean for ghosts to be real? Responses to these and similar questions from the Enlightenment to the present often emphasise a distinction of some kind between reality and the imagination, or phenomena external to the human mind and thoughts within it. Medieval thinkers framed the issue differently. This presentation explores the medieval commentary tradition regarding the raising of Samuel by the so-called Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28), as a medieval theoretical framework for calling up the dead and making them speak. A consideration of this tradition reveals the centrality of the imagination in medieval attempts to explain what a ghost is and how the living might interact with it or call it up in response to desire. Along the way, medieval authors offer to us some, perhaps, counterintuitive answers to the question of what it might mean for “ghosts” to be real. 

Michael D. Barbezat is a research fellow at the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry at the Australian Catholic University. From 2015 to 2018, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions at the University of Western Australia. He is the author of Burning Bodies: Communities, Eschatology, and the Punishment of Heresy in the Middle Ages (Cornell, 2018).

All welcome - This event is free, but booking is required.