Demons and salvation

Based on the observations and results of the research work that could be gained and compiled during the preceding projects “Salvation and healing” and “The body and salvation”, which looked at transformations in the area of healing sleep (so-called “incubation””, as well as physical practices and techniques in medicine, philosophy and religion in late antiquity, the new project “Demons and salvation” is now turning in the current programme period more intensely towards the area of the mind – after all, for many writers in late antiquity, demons were to a certain extent external manifestations of negative mental aspects.

Using the methodological and terminological instruments of SFB 644, the project will take a closer look at what transformations within antique notions of demons existed in late antiquity, what demonologies originally of pagan and Jewish-Christian provenance influenced the notions of demons in Christian monasticism and what antique and/or late antique ideas of the self, of evil and the other, as well as of health and illness came to bear in such notions. In the process, the research work should examine whether there were these transformations brought about shifts in orientational differences and/or binary codes, for example, in what was evaluated within a dualistic concept as self and other, good and evil, health and sickness, but also as body and mind.

Sub-project 1 will dedicate its work essentially to the transformative influence that Hellenistic and pagan notions of demons had on Christianity during the Roman Empire. Although the evil demon is assigned another ontological status in Christianity than in pagan antiquity, one can nevertheless find parallels with respect to the notion of their effect on nature and on man. In sub-project 1, therefore, it is less the philosophical and/or theological concepts in which the respective demonologies are located that are to be examined. Rather, the research work will concentrate on what personifications of what fears and what mental states were dealt with using demons as a means and how these were presented in the literature in the pagan and in the Christian context respectively. Were similarities contingent or were there transformations? In a further phase, the Early Christian notions about demons, and of saints and angels, will be compared, above all in their respective roles as intermediaries between man and God or between man and the devil. Are the demons “the saints and/or angels of the devil?”

At the core of sub-project 2 is a critical examination of how demons are perceived in the Latin West, a research desiderat. Western demonologies are not merely simple transformations of eastern ones, rather, there are also separate transformations of pagan-antique as well as Biblical and intertestamental material, which will also be taken into consideration. As writers like Augustine, Cassian and Martianus Capella had a considerable influence on medieval ideas, this sub-project acts as a bridge to medieval studies, withint which a great deal of research into demons has already been carried out. Furthermore, the magic and/or medical background to the idea of being attacked by demons will also be examined. What ideas about health and sickness were transported in the respective context and are these ideas based on medical preconceptions that were in line with the situation in contemporary scientific medicine or with certain other concepts of healing? Using the results of the second programme phase, research should be carried out into the practices of demons and activities against demons. The material promises to yield a great deal. According to Christian notions in late antiquity, the fine substance of demons allowed them to penetrate the body and spirit of man, thus influencing dreams or causing illness and possession.

Project manager
Christoph Markschies

Project duration


Eva Elm
Anna Rack-Teuteberg
Simon Danner
Johann Lehmhaus