CAMDEN, NJ — Ever wanted to learn more about the history and culture that defines Halloween?

Later this month, the Honors College at Rutgers University–Camden will host a free, public presentation in the style of a TED Talk that highlights various aspects of the holiday.

The event, which features commentary from three Rutgers–Camden faculty experts, will be held from 11:20 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 30, in the West ABC conference rooms located on the lower level of the Campus Center. 

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Part of an ongoing series geared toward learning outside the classroom, the Halloween-related talk was proposed by Honors College student-leaders, who also identified the faculty members to participate, noted Brian Everett, assistant dean of the Honors College.

“It is our hope that students and guests of all identities will gain a deeper understanding of a traditional American holiday which, for many, is treated – no pun intended – as a night of costumes and candy, but actually has greater cultural implications in its roots,” Everett said.

Speakers during the event will be Stuart Charmé, a professor of religion and director of the graduate program in liberal studies; Rick Demirjian, an assistant teaching professor and undergraduate program coordinator for the Department of History; and John Wall, a professor and chair of the Departments of Philosophy and Religion, and Childhood Studies.

Charmé will discuss the impact of Halloween costumes in reinforcing gender roles in children, as well as the increasing sexualization of women through commercial costumes.

“If children don’t choose the costumes according to these rigid gender norms, they become aware at an early age that they are doing something inappropriate and different from their peers,” he said. “The idea is that there is a neutral territory where boys and girls can be comfortable and spontaneous with their choices, but this latitude isn’t as wide as you’d think.”

Going back to the days of colonial New England, Demirjian will host a talk on the topic of “Witches and the Problem of Property in 17th-Century Salem.”

According to Demirjian, the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 are notable in American history and folklore as a cultural aberration: hysterical neighbors pitted against one another due to superstitious or even psychedelic influences.

But less well-known, he said, are the social circumstances of Salem in the 17th century that shaped the relationships among those neighbors.

“Instead of looking at Salem and asking, ‘Which witch is which?’, we might ask, ‘Whose woods were whose?’,” he said.

In his discussion, “Children as Embodiments of Evil," Wall is set to question why Halloween often involves children dressing up as evil characters like witches, ghouls, slashers, and monsters, and analyze why this is thought to be cute.

“This presentation will explore how, for both children and adults, children embodying evil is bound up with notions of children as innocent and good,” he said.

The Campus Center is located at 326 Penn Street, between Cooper Street and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge on the Rutgers–Camden campus.

For more information, visit the Honors College at Rutgers–Camden.

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