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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Cimminnee Holt, Religion

A Cabal of Outsiders: Negotiating the (Virtual) Boundaries of the Church of Satan

Thursday, January 20, 2022 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


This dissertation is a qualitative digital ethnography about members of the Church of Satan (CoS) and how they negotiate the boundaries of a modern religious Satanism in public virtual landscapes. The Church of Satan emerges from 1960s American countercultural movements within the social and political turbulence of second-wave feminism and the sexual revolution, the civil rights movement, anti-war protests, hippies, and the so-called witch revival. The founder of the Church of Satan, Anton Szandor LaVey (née Howard Stanton Levy 1928-1997), developed a codified religion best understood as emerging from and responding to the popular discourses of his time, embracing the infamous symbol of rebellion—Satan—and positioning his new religion of Satanism in calculated tension with both the ubiquitous Protestant ethos of American society and its radical counterculture.

Throughout this thesis, highlighted claims from LaVey, the Church of Satan, and its members are presented in terms of their respective social and historical contexts to demonstrate that, despite the CoS Administration’s claim to being apolitical and somewhat indifferent to modern concerns, the body of the Church of Satan viewed via the lens of its members’ lives online is deeply political, heavily invested in social discourses, with CoS members re/negotiating a Satanic identity via the demands of the modern world. The tripartite model is organized by delineating between: LaVey’s authored texts and interviews; the Church of Satan Administration’s official statements and policies; and the body of the membership in their own words expressed via their published works, public online content, and supplemented with data from a circulated questionnaire. This thesis examines modern religious Satanism as a highly individualistic religion that exalts the notion of a “true self” to reveal that each member of the Church of Satan absorbs Satanic literature and official policies and doctrines, and interprets them according to their own idiosyncratic experience, extending their identities as Satanists outward into their respective virtual spaces. The variety of Satanic interpretations can and often do conflict with one another, which this thesis argues is a deliberately constructed tension to avoid homogeny within internal CoS culture.

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