Witchcraft Beliefs and Human Rights: Past, Present and Future Perspectives - conference


In September 2017 the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN), the UN Independent Expert on Albinism and Lancaster University organized the first ever UN Expert Workshop on Witchcraft and Human Rights at the UN Human Rights Council. The workshop brought together UN Experts, members of civil society and academics to discuss the violence associated with such beliefs and practices, and groups that are particularly vulnerable.

The workshop highlighted the various manifestations of witchcraft-related beliefs and practices, including accusations, stigma, and ritual killings, identifying good practice in combatting them. It marked an important step towards mainstreaming the issue into the UN Human Rights system, whilst providing impetus and practical guidance to the numerous international and regional mechanisms, academics and civil society actors that have been working to raise awareness and understanding of these challenging issues.


The conference aims to build upon the positive momentum gathered at the UN workshop by bringing academics, faith leaders, civil society actors, survivors and UN Experts together to further develop understanding of the links between historic witchcraft beliefs and persecution, present day conceptualizations of witchcraft beliefs and practices, and potential strategies to prevent further human rights abuses in the future.

This interdisciplinary conference will examine the various traditions of witchcraft across centuries and continents. It will focus on how witchcraft accusations, practices and beliefs, and the consequences they generate, are understood, theorised and represented.

Importantly, the conference will also look to identify the solutions needed to prevent human rights abuses, which have been widely reported across the UK and rest of the world, from persisting in the future. The outcomes of the conference will feed into the wider work of the UN and its academic and civil society partners in raising awareness of witchcraft-related human rights abuses and the development of an international guidance document to States and civil society on the issue.

Conference Themes

We invite proposals for 20-minute papers and panels that might address, but are not limited to, the following themes:

  • Definitions of witchcraft beliefs and practices, and why they matter
  • Literary, historical and cultural representations of witchcraft-related beliefs and practices
  • Representations of survivors of witchcraft accusations and persecution
  • Witchcraft and human rights
  • Witchcraft and public health
  • Witchcraft and gender
  • Faith-based perspectives on witchcraft beliefs and practices
  • UK experiences of working on beliefs in witchcraft and spirit possession
  • Identifying good practice in combatting human rights abuses linked to beliefs in witchcraft
  • Good practice in preventing human rights abuses and harmful practices
  • Methodologies for studying this field

We aim to ensure that the papers represent as wide a range of cultural perspectives as possible and we particularly welcome applications from those living in the global south. A small number of travel bursaries will be available.

The Location

The conference will take place in the historic city of Lancaster, the site of the most famous English witch-trials in 1612. In addition to participating in the conference, delegates will be able to visit the site of the trials and gain a deeper understanding of the factors behind the persecution of the so-called Lancashire witches.


Proposals for the conference are now closed.

Organizing committee

Charlotte Baker, Ikponwosa Ero, Miranda Forsyth, Gary Foxcroft, Lisa Oakley, Sam Spence.