IPT Book Reviews

Title: The Satanism Scare   Positive Review Positive Review Positive Review
Editors: James T. Richardson, Joel Best, and David G. Bromley
Publisher: Aldine De Gruyter 1991

Aldine De Gruyter
200 Saw Mill River Road
Hawthorne, NY 10532
(914) 747-0110


This 320 page book is a collection of several scholarly approaches to the contemporary phenomenon of heightened interest in satanism and the emergence of individuals claiming to have been satanically ritualistically abused.  The disciplines represented include sociology, anthropology, folklore, journalism, and history.  The authors as a group take the view that this phenomenon is a social construction of a deviancy with their chief interest being who is making the claims and to what end.

The book begins with an overview of the development of the current satanism construct.  The second section has three chapters giving an anthropological, sociological, and historical analysis.  The three chapters in part three deal with the ways in which children are involved in the development of this body of beliefs about a satanic conspiracy.  Specific cases in which satanic ritualistic abuse in day care facilities has been alleged such as the McMartin case are described.  The use of a purported threat to children to inflame passions, arouse concern, and mobilize the public to support an ideology is presented in the next chapter.  A critical analysis of claims that games and music favored by adolescents are an avenue for satanic influence suggests there is nothing to such claims.  Part four has two chapters that critically examine claims of persons who say they have survived satanic cults, had no memory, but regained memory under a course of therapy.  Three chapters on the legal system and the activities of law enforcement in developing a concept of cult crime and a cadre of cult cops and legal actions in which claims about satanism tend to appear comprise part five.  Four chapters report empirical studies of how these concepts spread in part six. The final two chapters describe people who say they are satanists and delineate their actual behavior.  There is a brief section giving biographies of the contributors and a moderately useful index.


Anybody who watches television, reads newspapers and magazines, or goes to movies and wants to make any rational sense out of what is presented about satanism needs to read this book carefully.  Anybody who hears and is likely to believe urban legends about the Procter and Gamble trademark or the dangers involved in Dungeons and Dragons played on college campuses or thinks rock music played backwards has satanic messages must study this book.  Anybody who has even a moderate value for the use of critical acumen and human reason to solve problems must know the contents of this book.

Mental health professionals who are inclined to accept a diagnosis of multiple personality and claims that MPD is caused by child abuse need to know this book.  If a mental health professional does not have at least an acquaintance with the thought content of this book, there is a significant danger of victimizing and producing iatrogenic damage in a patient who may begin to talk about possible abuse experienced as a child.

Anybody who wants to live in a world free from constant anxiety and fear about the terrible things that can happen if a constant vigilance for wickedness and evil is not maintained needs to read this book.  Anybody who wants to believe that human choices and human actions can make a difference and that we are not helpless victims of a great cosmic force that determines our final cruel fate in random capriciousness needs to absorb the approach and content of this book.  Anybody who chooses to live in the twentieth century rather than the fifteenth should learn this book.  Anybody who values human reason more than irrationality and is persuaded that the exercise of our rational capacity has something to do with the difference between man and beast should read this book.  Anybody who wants to have some minimal understanding of how we can find ourselves mobbing up and doing violence to others needs to see what this book tells about social influence and social deviancy.

Anybody who has a desire to fulfill the fundamental adult responsibility to children to teach them how to tell what is real from what is not real must be aware of the arguments and evidence presented in this book.  Anybody who wants to serve the best interests and welfare of children and aid them to understand that their world has some good things in it and some good people in it needs this book.

Anybody who can read one notch higher than the level of the National Enquirer should read this book.

Once you have bought the book and read it, leave it at work or on the bus or in an airplane or give it to your local library so that hopefully someone else will pick it up and read it.  Then buy yourself another copy to keep.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

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