Humanising the Devil, 1850 -2000

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter explores what happened to the Devil as he became increasingly detached from religious belief, a development that enabled him to adapt to a secularising western culture between 1850-2000. This was achieved through his humanisation, a development that is explored through four themes. Firstly, the period saw a more positive interpretation of Satan as a mythologised rebel and symbol of free thought. Whether it was revolutions or counterculture resistance, some people drew affinities between his story and their own struggles. Secondly, the Devil regularly assumed human form, in folklore, literature, and movies. He was also increasingly employed as a metaphor for human evil, used to describe our darker nature and to demonise serial killers such as Jack the Ripper and dictators such as Adolf Hitler. Thirdly, with the Devil having disappeared, his continuing influence in the world was purely reliant upon human agents, be it unwitting spirit mediums or supposed Satanists. Finally, the chapter examines how the humanisation of the Devil led to his tamed portrayal in certain areas of western popular culture. These changes arguably diminished the Devil, but they brought him closer to us, ensuring that the modern age was as suffused with the demonic as ever.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge History of the Devil in the Western Tradition
EditorsMichelle Brock, Richard Raiswell, David Winter
Publication statusAccepted for publication - 19 Jan 2023


  • Devil
  • nineteenth century
  • folklore
  • serial killers
  • Satanism
  • popular culture


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