1. Tell us a bit about the general focus of your research. What questions did you initially set out to answer?
My honors project focuses on demonic possession in Europe in the Middle Ages. Of particular interest are the factors – theological, scientific, and social – that caused women to be considered especially vulnerable to spirit possession by both evil and divine entities.
2. How did your interest in this topic develop?
I’ve taken several classes that had me read works by influential Christian theologians of the medieval and early modern period – St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and the like. Being a complete sucker for a good horror story, I was fascinated by the prevalence of references to demons in the writings of these figures, and began reading into demonology and possession accounts in other contemporary sources such as hagiographies and biographies.
3. Have you faced any challenges in the course of your research? How have these difficulties affected your project?
In some cases it is difficult to find primary sources that have been translated into English from the original Latin. Additionally, there is such a vast body of scholarship on the subject of medieval demonology that it has been easy to feel totally overwhelmed and unsure of how to focus my research.
4. What sorts of methods and sources have you utilized in researching your topic?
So far I’ve drawn upon a wide variety of printed source material: major theological works such as Aquinas’ On Evil, pseudoscientific literature from the period on the nature of the human body, hagiographies, and notable secondary sources on the subject. I joke with my advisor that I’m going to use a Ouija board as a primary source, but I’m reasonably sure that won’t actually come to bear.
5. Do you have any advice for fellow students who are thinking about undertaking an independent research project?
I would advise them not to rush into an independent research project. I think it pays to give yourself time to read widely and at your leisure so that you can adapt and alter your choice of subject rather than getting locked into a topic that you’ve not fully explored and that might end up being unfulfilling.