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Christina Jessy Larner

Reader in Psychology, University of Glasgow
1933 to 1983

Christina Jessy Larner, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, was born on 22 September 1933, in northwest London, eldest of five children born to John and Nella (née Wallace) MacDonald Ross. Her father, a Senior Civil Servant in the Home Office and a Presbyterian Lay Preacher, had read Greats at Oxford. Her mother had read history at London University.

Larner had a strong interest in religion (especially Scottish Presbyterianism) and in Scotland more generally, as well as in music, literature, and painting. After attending South Hampstead High School for Girls (London), she matriculated at Edinburgh University, graduating with first class honours in modern history. She remained at Edinburgh University to work on a thesis, ‘Continental Influences on Scottish Demonology, 1560–1700’, for which she was awarded a Ph.D. in 1962. During this period Larner also taught political thought to students in the Department of History.

In 1960 she married Professor John Larner, then a lecturer in medieval history in the University of Glasgow. They had two sons, Patrick and Gavin. Given the gender-discrimination still strong in Scottish academic life at that time, it was difficult for her to gain a permanent, full-time position in a Scottish university. She worked first as a part-time assistant in the Department of History at Glasgow University.

From 1966 to 1968 Larner was a Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Conversion Fellow in what was then the Department of Politics and Sociology at Glasgow University. From 1968 to 1972 she was a SSRC Research Fellow, researching the contemporary British Foreign Office and in 1972 she became a lecturer in the newly formed separate Department of Sociology. It was her understanding that historical Scottish witchcraft, in whose study she believed there was much of importance to be discovered, should be accepted as appropriate matter for sociological research.

In 1974 Larner obtained a three-year SSRC grant which gave her computer facilities and two research assistants. They worked on Scottish central government manuscript sources and in 1977 published the first calendar of the prosecution of witches based on such sources. In 1976 a sabbatical period as Snell Visitor to Balliol College, Oxford, offered her an opportunity to draft a first impression of ‘Enemies of God: The Witch Hunt in Scotland’. The work was finally published in 1981. Meantime in 1976 she had been appointed Senior Lecturer in Sociology.

Larner was appointed Gifford Lecturer at the University of Glasgow in 1981. The lectures were delivered in 1982 under the title ‘Relativism and Ethnocentrism: Popular Belief in Pre-Industrial Culture’ and were published under the title The Thinking Peasant: Popular and Educated Belief in Pre-Industrial Culture in 1982. The appointment as Gifford Lecturer prompted in her an interest in the Scottish anthropologists of Gifford's day, and also led her to plan a study of ‘The Scottish Intellect and the Savage Mind’. Unhappily these researches were cut short; she died on 27 April 1983 at age forty-nine.

Larner’s studies attracted a wide audience and she lectured in many universities in Britain and Europe. Among her publications is A Source Book of Scottish Witchcraft, published together with Christopher Lee and H. V. McLachlan in 1977 (reprint, 2005), Enemies of God: The Witch Hunt in Scotland (1981; reprints 1983 and 2000), and Witchcraft and Religion: The Politics of Popular Belief (1984), a reprint of five articles together with the Gifford Lectures of 1982. In addition Larner published several articles, among them ‘Calvinism and Witchcraft Persecution in England’ in the Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society of England (1960), ‘The Amalgamation of the Diplomatic Service with the Foreign Office’ in Journal of Contemporary History (1972), and ‘James VI and I and Witchcraft’ in The Reign of James VI and I (1973), ‘The Organisation and Structure of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’ inThe Management of Britain’s External Relations, ‘Is all Witchcraft, Witchcraft?’ in Morality and Religion (1976), ‘Two Late Witchcraft Tracts’ in The Damned Art (1977), ‘Hekserig als delict in Schotland’ in Tidschrift voor Criminologie (1978), ‘Crimen Exceptum? The Crime of Witchcraft in Europe’ in Crime and Law (1980), and ‘Witch Beliefs and Witch Hunting in England and Scotland—A Comparison’ in History Today (1981).

  • Benedikt Bock, University of Glasgow