Benjamin Ray ’62, a University of Virginia religious studies professor, has published a new book, Satan and Salem, that helps reveal when and how Salem’s witchcraft hysteria began more than 300 years ago. Scholars have never fully understood why the small Massachusetts village spawned a spate of accusations against supposed witches.
Ray led the development of an award-winning U.Va digital archive of primary source materials about the Salem witch trials, which allowed him to digitally map the geography and timing of each accusation. His work steered him to the conclusion that religious difference played a major part part in the mass delirium that left more than 150 people accused and 19 killed.
“Most of the accusers were daughters of church members, while most of the accused were outside of the church,” explains a University of Virginia article. “[Ray] also noticed that accusations began to leap to Andover, Reading and other villages in the region with the same message that Satan was not just trying to destroy [Samuel] Parris’ church [a controversial Salem minister], but the church as a whole.”