Magical Thinking and the Rise of Nazism: A Warning from History

What role did "magical thinking" play in the rise of Nazism? There are many factors that help to explain the collapse of German democracy in the 1930s, including a lost war, economic crisis, and political polarization. But there were other countries facing similar challenges. Not all of them became fascist. This is why historians, including myself, have begun to reexamine the role of supernatural or “magical” thinking, the growing popularity of fringe science, mythology, and alternative religion, of conspiracy theories and the occult, in contributing to a loss of faith in democracy and enthusiasm for nationalism and authoritarian politics. In this class, we will look at the role of “magical thinking” in facilitating the rise of Nazism and discuss whether American democracy faces similar challenges today.

Course Dates:

February 20, 2021 - 10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. - Register

April 10, 2021 - 10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. - Register

Format: Online

About the Instructor

Eric Kurlander

Eric Kurlander serves as William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of History at Stetson University. His recent monograph, Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich (Yale, 2018) offers the first comprehensive study of the supernatural in Nazi Germany, illustrating how the Third Reich drew upon a wide variety of occult practices, esoteric sciences and pagan religious ideas to gain power, shape propaganda and policy, and pursue their dreams of racial utopia and empire.

Kurlander's other books include Living With Hitler: Liberal Democrats in the Third Reich (Yale, 2009), The Price of Exclusion: Ethnicity, National Identity, and the Decline of German Liberalism, 1898-1933 (Berghahn, 2006), Revisiting the ‘Nazi Occult': Histories, Realities, Legacies, co-edited with Monica Black (Camden House, 2015) and Transcultural Encounters between Germany and India: Kindred Spirits in the 19th and 20th Centuries, co-edited with Joanne Miyang Cho and Douglas McGetchin (Routledge, 2014). His current projects include a textbook, Modern Germany: A Global History (under contract with Oxford University Press) and a monograph, Before the Final Solution: A Global History of the Nazi “Jewish Question.

Registration Information

Appropriate for Grades 7-12

Next Course:

Date: February 20, 2021
10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Cost: $25
20% Stetson community discount and scholarships available for those in financial need

Register Online

Payment in full is required at the time of registration to reserve your seat in this class. Payments can be made online or over the phone. For more information, please contact the Office of Continuing Education and Outreach at
386-822-7500 or