Theistic Satanism: Home > To scholars > Suggestions for research

To scholars of new religions:
Suggestions for research on Satanism

by Diane Vera

Copyright © 2005 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.

  1. Why the topic of Satanism is now timely again
  2. The need for up-to-date research on Satanism
  3. Some suggested research topics
  4. Contacting Satanists in the Theistic Satanism forums

  1. Why the topic of Satanism is now timely again
  2. Satanism is a topic that got lots of mass media attention in the late 1960's, when Anton LaVey's Church of Satan first went public in a big way, and then again in the 1980's and early 1990's, when the "Satanic ritual abuse" (SRA) scare put hundreds of probably-innocent people in prison and drove tens of thousands of middle-class and upper-middle-class young women to shun their parents.

    As I've documented in detail on my website Against Satanic panics, there are now signs of a budding new Satanic panic. Unlike the SRA scare of the 1980's and early 1990's, the next Satanic panic probably will not feature daycare centers and "recovered memories." More likely it will feature (1) heightened prejudice against religious minorities and other nonmainstream subcultures and (2) general cultural paranoia, e.g. attempts to censor popular children's literature such as the Harry Potter books. The heightened prejudice against nonmainstream religions and subcultures will likely manifest in many ways, probably including false criminal accusations. But such cases will, most likely, be more like the "West Memphis Three" case than like the McMartin Preschool case.

    Fear of "Satanism" is now being promulgated actively by the Vatican and by prominent Catholic exorcists such as Father Gabriele Amorth. In February 2005, the Pontifical Academy "Regina Apostolorum," run by the conservative Legionaires of Christ, began teaching a course for clergy and seminarians on "Satanism and exorcism."

    A new Satanic panic would most likely strike a responsive chord in many of today's Christians. For at least several decades now, the more conservative and demon-obsessed forms of Christianity have been growing, worldwide, at the expense of more moderate and liberal forms.

    Religious and social nonconformists of all kinds will need to fight back. The panic may also become at least a minor annoyance to a lot of educated mainstream folks, insofar as it intrudes into the realm of pop culture such as by denouncing Harry Potter books.

    Hence there is likely to be some demand, soon, for genuine and up-to-date scholarly expertise on the topic of Satanism. As the budding new Satanic panic gathers steam, there will also be a renewed market for up-to-date scholarly debunkers of said panic.

    So, if you're a of scholar of new religions, whether from the standpoint of religious studies per se or anthropology or sociology, you now have a golden opportunity to do some original research and perhaps make a little extra money by writing a popular book about it too.

  3. The need for up-to-date research on Satanism
  4. The Satanist scene has changed quite a bit during the past five years, thanks to the Internet.

    As far as I am aware, no one in academia has yet documented these changes. A little bit of research on Satanism was done by a few journalists and scholars in the 1980's and early-to-mid-1990's in response to the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare, which was thoroughly discredited by the mid-1990's. Since then, as far as I am aware, no neutral outsiders have done any significant research on real-life Satanism besides James Lewis; and even his work is already somewhat out-of-date.

    Earlier work is not only severely outdated but also suffered from a severe sampling error, as I will explain below. Likewise, all the subsequent papers I'm aware of are by people who have not dug anywhere nearly as deeply into the Satanist scene as Lewis has, but who instead have focussed only on Satanism's most visible manifestations.

    The most scholarly earlier works rightfully dismissed the SRA scaremongers' fantasies of highly organized, generations-old "Satanic cults" that committed all manner ofatrocities on a regular basis. However, real-life Satanists were typically thought of as falling into the following three categories:  (1) members of the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set, (2) "teenage dabblers," and (3) adult "self-styled Satanists." Members of the CoS and the ToS were said to be reasonably sane and law-abiding, whereas "teenage dabblers" were assumed to be at high risk for getting themselves into trouble, and adult "self-styled Satanists" were assumed to be violent psychopaths and generally nutty. In other words, if you were a Satanist and you weren't a member of either the CoS or the ToS, or if you weren't at least a LaVeyan, then it was assumed that you were most likely a criminal.

    This, of course, is quite a dangerous stereotype for those of us who are law-abiding independent Satanists, whether we are adults or in our teens.

    James Lewis's papers (e.g. Who Serves Satan? A Demographic and Ideological Profile) do go beyond the stereotype of the "self-styled Satanist," but not enough other scholars do. Though his research is in many ways excellent, even Lewis hasn't yet written much about theistic Satanists, nor has he yet written much about the different varieties of Satanist beliefs, emphasizing instead the (now-diminishing) overwhelming preponderance of LaVeyans. Lewis's articles were published before the recent (2002-2005) explosion in the number of non-LaVeyan theistic Satanists participating in various Internet forums.

    The website of the Center for Studies on New Religions lists some academic articles on Satanism that have been published within the last several years. Most of these articles are in Italian, which, alas, I cannot read. Among the articles in English, most deal with public manifestations of Satanism in Europe, primarily Eastern Europe, including some LaVeyan groups that have sought government recognition. A 2003 article by Milda Alisauskiene on Lithuanian Satanism focusses primarily on a "rational Satanist" website,, echoing that website's (and the mass media's) characterization of "occult Satanists" as criminals. There's also a 2003 article by Andrea Menegotto about some violent crimes in the name of Satanism in Italy. Like many previous authors, Menegotto assumes that Satanists outside the formally "organized" sector are likely to be criminals.

    For the most part, the current state of published information on solitary and informal-group Satanists, especially non-LaVeyans, is a lot like the state of published information on homosexuality back in the 1950's, and for exactly the same reasons. Back in the 1950's, the only homosexuals who were likely to come to the attention of researchers were (1) those who were seeing shrinks and got written about in psychotherapy journals and (2) those who had gotten into trouble with the law. So, naturally most people got the impression that most homosexuals were either criminals or people suffering from severe emotional problems. Likewise, until the advent of the Internet, it simply wasn't easy for scholars or journalists to find very many independent Satanists, other than those who either had gotten written about by their shrinks or had gotten into trouble with the law. Back then, it was tough enough even for independent Satanists to find each other, let alone for outside scholars to find us. (That doesn't mean we didn't exist, though. We may have been hard to find back then, but there were plenty of small-time Satanist zines and some Satanist writers who were published in more general occult zines.)

    Of course, any large-scale study of independent and small-group Satanists today would likely suffer from a different sampling error, namely a bias in favor of those who spend time on the Internet. But at least that would be a different sampling error from most previous studies and could be acknowledged as such. Although Internet Satanists are now the easiest-to-find Satanists, and although the Internet has radically transformed Satanism, it should not be assumed that Satanism is only an Internet-based subculture.

    To get more of a feel for the current state of academic and journalistic knowledge about Satanism, see my collection of links to articles on Satanism by academics, reporters, etc.

  5. Some suggested research topics
  6. As the new Satanism scare gathers steam, both of the following two major categories of research topics will become timely: (1) topics pertaining to Satanism itself, and (2) topics pertaining to the scare.

    Regarding the scare, please see To scholars and journalists:  Topics of timely interest on my website Against Satanic panics

    Should you choose to do original research on Satanism itself, here are some possible topics:

    Whatever you choose to study, I ask only that you get to know a bunch of us, and that you get to know us well enough to know that most of us aren't violent criminals -- and that you be willing to say so in your papers. That's the single most important thing.

  7. Contacting Satanists in the Theistic Satanism forums
  8. If you're an academic researcher or journalist who wishes to interview Satanists in the Theistic Satanism forums, please begin by introducing yourself in Theistic-Satanists-and-others-2 - one of our smaller forums, but it is the one which welcomes people of all religions and worldviews. Then, after you've answered a few preliminary questions in T-S-a-o-2 and we've checked out your bona-fides, we'll be happy to forward a request from you to our larger forums, the main Theistic-Satanism forum and Theistic-Satanists-and-others. (Please do not post in our larger forums directly without first getting our permission, because our policies do limit who is allowed to post in our larger forums.) You may also post directly to Theistic-Satanism-ads, a relatively small forum.

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