Carl Raschke

Carl A. Raschke
Born 1944
Nationality American
Known for postmodern theology, popular religion, philosophy of culture, philosophy of technology, Satanism, the occult
Academic background
Education Pomona College, The Graduate Theological Union
Alma mater Harvard University
Thesis Moral action, God, and history in the thought of Immanuel Kant. (1972)
Academic work
Discipline theology
Sub-discipline continental philosophy

Carl A. Raschke (1944[1]-) is an American philosopher and theologian. Raschke is a Past Chair and Professor of Religious Studies Department at the University of Denver, specializing in continental philosophy, the philosophy of religion and the theory of religion.[2] He is also listed with the affiliated faculty of the Global Center for Advanced Studies. Raschke is known in part for his research on postmodern theology, popular religion, philosophy of culture and philosophy of technology. He received his B.A. from Pomona College, his M.A. from The Graduate Theological Union, and his Ph.D. from Harvard University.[3] Raschke is senior editor for The Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory and a regular contributor to Political Theology Today.[4] A major focus of Raschke's work has been postmodernism. In recent years he has written on the theory of religion and political theology.

During the late 1980s and 1990s, Raschke published works on (and made media appearances regarding) Satanism, the occult, heavy metal music, and subjects such as Dungeons and Dragons. In addition, Raschke was an expert witness on some cases involving Satanism, regularly made comments and appearances for the media on related topics, and advised the American Family Foundation; Raschke's comments and work during this period, particularly his 1990 book Painted Black, have been overwhelmingly condemned by scholars as inaccurate and repeatedly cited as having assisted in fueling the Satanic ritual abuse moral panic during the period, and Raschke's status as an "expert" on these topics has been criticized.

Philosophical and Theological Contributions

A central focus of Raschke’s work has been on postmodern religious thought and postmodernism. According to The Encyclopedia of Postmodernism, his “work has sought to expose a conceptual tangle in modernity’s approach to language, religion, and the body."[5] Raschke launched this project in the 1970s with the publication of an article in The Harvard Theological Review entitled “Meaning and Saying in Religion: Beyond Language Games,” in which he “argues that the failure of Anglo-American philosophy to adequately account for religious language reveals a deeper failure to account for the process of meaning-formation at the heart of language itself.”[5] His first major book, The Alchemy of the Word: Language and the End of Theology (1979), which was republished in 2000 as The End of Theology, lays out this agenda in detail with reliance in particular on the philosophy of the later Martin Heidegger. Fire and Roses: Postmodernity and the Thought of the Body (1996) explores these interconnections by seeking to “reconcile erotic and tragic discourses through the thought of the Word made flesh.”[5] An earlier work, entitled Theological Thinking: An In-Quiry (1988), investigates the interconnections between the languages of religion and science.

After the turn of the millennium, Raschke turned his attention to the impact of postmodernism on Christian evangelical thought. His book, The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity, explained how postmodern philosophy might transform present day evangelical theology, comparing it to Reformation thought, in particular Martin Luther’s key doctrines of sola fide (“by faith alone”) and sola Scriptura (“according to Scripture alone"). He writes in this book that “the postmodernist revolution in philosophy…has tendered an environment where the Christian gospel can at last be disentangled from the centuries-long gnarl of scientism, rationalism, secularism, humanism, and skepticism.”[6] Reviewing the book, Brian C. Smith notes in Library Journal that Raschke challenges the conventional evangelical view of "postmodernism" and "exudes an embracing and accepting spirit toward it."[7] A later book, entitled GloboChrist, published as part of a general series by Baker Academic Books, argued that the theory of the “rhizome,” first advanced by twentieth century French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, can be used to model the future of the Christian church in the new era of globalization. In an interview with the Evangelical Philosophical Society in 2009, Raschke explains he borrowed this term because “globalization is an ongoing, simultaneous transformation of nations, cultures, and religious outlooks and practices everywhere on the planet which they term ‘de-territorialization.’”[8] Commenting on GloboChrist scholar Richard Haney criticizes the book for its "breezy terminology", but concludes the book "will challenge Christians to think missionally and philosophically at the same time."[9] In his contribution among three authors to the volume Faith and Reason: Three Views, Raschke has argued that the gospel represented a departure from Greek and Enlightenment philosophies, and that faith and reason are "in tension" with each other.[10]

More recently, Raschke has written on the general theory of religion. His book,The Revolution in Religious Theory: Toward A Semiotics of the Event, lays out how postmodern philosophy has impacted and reshaped both classical and contemporary paradigms of how we understand what is meant by the “religious.” In an interview with David Hale, Raschke criticizes many scholars of religion, particularly in regard to "cults", for approaching their subject as a "pseudo-phenomenology" that "does not seek to probe, or dialectically reflect, beyond the bare given."[11] In reviewing the book, McGill University scholar Nathan Strunk writes that Raschke criticizes the history of religious studies as colonializing with a tendency toward "Aryanization", and thus "readers should not be surprised if some areas they consider sacred are tread over lightly."[12] His latest book, Force of God: Political Theology and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy, leverages the philosophies of Michel Foucault and Friedrich Nietzsche to analyze from what he terms a “genealogical” standpoint the ongoing global economic crisis and the dysfunctions of democracy.

Raschke has been credited with being "one of the first to register the importance of Derrida's work for postmodern philosophies of religion ."[13]

He is section editor for The Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions.[14]

Raschke has written and commented on topics such as Satanism, Dungeons and Dragons, heavy metal music and certain new religious movements. His work in this area as well as his role in the development of the Satanic ritual abuse moral panic of the late 1980s and early 1990s, in particular the book Painted Black (1990), have been much criticized in academia.

Particularly during the late 1980s and 1990s, Raschke regularly commented to the media on matters involving Satanism and the occult,[15] advised the American Family Foundation during the 1990s,[16] and appeared as an expert witness during trials purportedly involving Satanism.[17] Raschke has continued to accept media requests for comment on these topics, such as for an object purportedly involved in the murder of Jessica Ridgeway in 2012.[18]

Reviewing Painted Black in 1991, scholar Jonathon S. Epstein writes: "Painted Black adds additional fuel to the flames of hysteria surrounding satanism [sic] in America", that "what the book lacks is scholarship, it makes up for it in sweeping and unsupportable generalizations", and that … "Painted Black cannot be taken seriously.[19] In 1995, scholar Wouter J. Hanegraaff writes "Raschke's eagerness to include everything "gnostic" into a "genealogy of darkness" (Painted Black, 133) inspires sloppy historical scholarship. … With a similar lack of sensitivity for the power of words and definitions, Raschke routinely uses "satanism" and "occultism" as synonyms (for instance, Painted Black, 35-36). This careless attitude towards terminology leads to painfully inaccurate overviews (esp. Painted Black, chapter 4)."[20] Writing in 1998, scholar Phillip Jenkins cites Raschke's Painted Black next to Maury Terry's Ultimate Evil and Larry Kahaner's Cults That Kill along with an episode of Geraldo Rivera's talk show (Geraldo, "Devil Worship: Exposing Satan's Underground") as examples of major works that popularized the Satanic ritual abuse moral panic in the late 1980s and 1990s. Jenkins says "For several years, belief in the existence of satanic cults and ritual murder achieved wider credence in the United States than it had in any other society since that of sixteenth-century Europe", where the moral panic subsequently spread to areas of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.[21]

In an analysis of Raschke's role in adding fuel to the 1980s and early 1990s United States Satanic ritual abuse moral panic, scholar Eugene V. Gallagher (2004) notes that Raschke referred to critics of his works as "cult apologists" but says "the shrillness of Raschke's argument ... ultimately fails to compensate for the paucity of evidence behind it".[22] Referring to Raschke's Painted Black, scholar Joshua Gunn (2005) writes that "Raschke's error-filled tome is frequently cited by seemingly secular academics who profess in a belief of Satanic ritual abuse".[23]

Scholar Arthur Versluis (2006) is highly critical of Raschke's Painted Black, which he describes as an "effort to awaken an American inquisition" and refers to the book as "breathless sensationalism".[24] Versluis cites Raschke's description of the roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons as a means of initiation into "black magic" as an example and says that "it is scarcely possible to exaggerate the hysterical nature of this book, nor the number of errors in it (although some have tried at least to chronicle them)."[25] Versluis is critical of Raschke's role in the Satanic ritual abuse moral panic, noting the false imprisonments that the moral panic resulted in, and says, regarding Painted Black, "This is dangerous stuff indeed ... Fortunately, Raschke's book didn't have the kind of impact he so clearly wanted: to fully awaken the medieval Inquisitorial spirit. But ... the 1980s and the 1990s 'Satanic panic' was bad enough."[26]

Comparing Raschke's Painted Black to Tipper Gore's 1987 book Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society in that Gore "invoked Satan as the seducer of youth", scholar Robert Latham (2007) refers to Carl Raschke as "a tabloid 'expert' on 'cults'". Latham is particularly critical of Raschke's claims that MTV "had put an entire generation of teens at risk of satanic contamination" and writes that "Raschke's indictment of the resultant 'Dionysian frenzy' ... indiscriminately conflated acts of violence, sexual 'deviance', and supernaturalism in a millennial scenario of youth's spectacular degeneracy."[27]

Scholars Asbjørn Dyrendal, James R. Lewis, and Jesper AA. Petersen (2015) provide examples of Raschke "quoting ... misleadingly and out of context" and "hav[ing] forgotten all his academic training, and reverted, in a telling manner, to the folklore of evil". The scholars characterize Raschke as an "until-then well-reputed academic" (referring to the publication of Painted Black).[28] Scholar Joseph P. Laycock is highly critical of statements that Raschke made in the 1980s and early 1990s regarding Satanism in popular culture, noting that Raschke "is one of the few academics who embraced the moral panic over Satanism and role-playing games in the 1980s".[29] Analyzing Raschke's works on heavy metal, scholar Robert Walser (2013) says that "the terrorism of Raschke and similar critics depends upon two tactics: anecdote and insinuation. Raschke himself cites a group of sociologists of religion who determined that there was 'not a shred of evidence' that Satanism is a problem in America, directly contradicting the thesis of Rashke's book."[30]

Raschke's comments regarding Heathenry have also been criticized. According to a 1998 interview with the SPLC, Raschke claimed that "a recent biological terrorism threat in New York City may have come from Asatrúers [sic]" (quote from SPLC 1998, reprinted in Gardell 2003). Citing this claim as an example of the reception of Heathenry in his overview, scholar Mattias Gardell (2003) says "I have found nothing to substantiate the alarmist allegations of Raschke".[31]

In an article on Wicca and media for the Oxford Handbook of Religion and the News Media (2012), scholar Sarah M. Pike describes how a media report during the trial for the West Memphis Three "failed to consult experts on Wicca and Satanism" but rather referred to material by Raschke, who she describes as a "widely discredited 'Satanism expert'".[32]

Raschke has written and commented in the media extensively on contemporary religion, especially regarding the New Age Movement. His most cited and often controversial book on this is The Interruption of Eternity (1980). Other writings of this kind include "The New Age: The Movement Toward Self-Discovery",[33] "New Age Spirituality"[34] and "New Age Economics".[35]


  • Moral Action, God, and History in the Thought of Immanuel Kant. American Academy of Religion Dissertation Series 5. Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1975. ISBN 9780891300038.
  • Religion and the Human Image. Editor and co-author with Mark C. Taylor and James Kirk. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976. ISBN 9780137734245.
  • The Bursting of New Wineskins: Religion and Culture at the End of Affluence. Pittsburgh, PA: Pickwick Press, 1978. ISBN 9780915138340.
  • The Alchemy of the Word: Language and the End of Theology. AAR Studies in Religion 20. Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1979. ISBN 9780891303190.
  • The Interruption of Eternity: Modern Gnosticism and the Origins of the New Religious Consciousness. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1980. ISBN 9780882293745.
  • Theological Thinking: An Inquiry. AAR Studies in Religion 53. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988. ISBN 9781555401870.
  • Painted Black: From Drug Killings to Heavy Metal Music: The Alarming True Story of How Satanism Is Terrorizing Our Communities. San Francisco: Harper, 1990. ISBN 9780062507044. Paperback edition, Harper Collins, 1992. ISBN 9780061040801.
  • Fire and Roses: Postmodernity and the Thought of the Body. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. ISBN 9780585062730.
  • The Engendering God. Male and Female Faces of God. Co-authored with Susan D. Raschke. Louisville, KY: John Knox/Westminster, 1996. ISBN 9780664255022.
  • The End of Theology. Denver CO: The Davies Group Publishers, 2000. ISBN 9781888570533. (Republication of The Alchemy of the Word with new introduction)
  • The Digital Revolution and the Coming of the Postmodern University. London / New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2002. ISBN 9780203451243.
  • The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004. ISBN 9780801027512.
  • The Republic of Faith: The Search for Agreement Amid Diversity in American Religion. Religion in American Culture. Aurora, CO: Davies Group, 2005. ISBN 9781888570717.
  • GloboChrist: The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn. The Church and Postmodern Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008. ISBN 9780801032615.
  • Postmodernism and the Revolution in Religious Theory: Toward a Semiotics of the Event. Studies in Religion and Culture. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012. ISBN 9780813933085.
  • Force of God: Political Theology and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015. ISBN 9780231539623.


  2. Raschke, Carl (June 1978). "The End of Theology". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 46 (2): 159–79. JSTOR 1462219.
  3. "Carl Raschke | Faculty & Staff | University of Denver". 2016. Retrieved January 5, 2016.
  4. Raschke's contributions to Political Theology Today may be viewed on the publication's website.
  5. 1 2 3 Taylor, Victor E.; Charles Winquist (2003). Encyclopedia of Postmodernism. Psychology Press. p. 330.
  6. Raschke, Carl (2004). The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity. Baker Academic. pp. 20–21.
  7. Smith, Brian C. (2005). "Review of "The Next Reformation"". Library Journal: 119.
  8. "Interview with Carl Raschke: GloboChrist". Evangelical Philosophical Society Blog. Evangelical Philosophical Society. January 18, 2009. Retrieved 2016-01-13.
  9. Hanaey, Richard (2010). "Review of GloboChrist". Interpretation. 64 (2): 216.
  10. Wilkens, Steve (2014). "Faith and Reason: Three Views". Intervarsity Press, p. 20.
  11. Hale, David (2014). "Not Your Grandmother's Theory of Religion: An Interview With Carl Raschke". Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory. 14 (2): 2.
  12. Strunk, Nathan. Review of "The Revolution in Religious Theory," Religious Studies Review 3(2013), p. 39.
  13. The Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology, p 505. John Wiley & Sons, Apr 15, 2008
  14. Runehov, Anne and Oviedo, Lluis, editors. The Encyclopedia of Religions and Sciences. Springer Reference, 2013, p. xi.
  15. Stowers (1989).
  16. Anson & Darnell (2006:115).
  17. Such as Missouri v. Roland. 808 S.W.2d 855 (1991) (viewable online: ), in which Raschke testified for the defense: "The court permitted witness Raschke to testify to the general tenets of satanism [sic], but, because he lacked any training in psychiatry or psychology, excluded his proffered testimony as to the effects of satanic beliefs on individuals. The professor did testify that satanic cults often employed violence and terror in enforcing secrecy and loyalty among their members."
  18. Regarding an object purportedly connected with the murder of Jessica Ridgeway:
    "Raschke notes that the cross contains three vertical scratches on one side and a zigzag and several nicks on the other. Raschke, who also studies cults, wouldn't speculate on the three vertical scratches, but said the zigzag and nicks could be significant. "The zigzag is a stylized 'S,'" he said. "It's like a lightning bolt. It probably has something to do with somebody who's into magic or wizardry or something like that. It could also be neo-Nazism." Raschke said the nicks adjacent to the zigzag are even more interesting. "Those look like somebody is stabbing the cross with a knife and may very well have been doing that because they hate Christians. It could be some kind of ritual way of showing (their) contempt for Christianity." (Hernandez 2012).
  19. Epstein (1991:439-440).
  20. Hanegraaff (1995:X).
  21. Jenkins (1998:168-169).
  22. Raschke (2004:188-189).
  23. Gunn (2005:283).
  24. Verlius (2006:108).
  25. Versluis (2006:107).
  26. Versluis (2006:109)
  27. Latham (2007:126).
  28. Dyrendal, Lewis, and Petersen (2015:102-104)
  29. Laycock (2015:59).
  30. Walser 2013: 142).
  31. Gardell (2003:275). The 1998 SPLC interview Gardell refers to may be read online at the SPLC website:
  32. Pike (2012:289-290).
  33. Raschke, Carl (1993). "The New Age: The Movement Toward Self-Discovery". In Ferguson, Duncan. New Age Spirituality: An Assessment. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press. pp. 121–43.
  34. Raschke, Carl (1996). "New Age Spirituality". In Van Ness, Peter. Spirituality and the Secular Quest. New York: Crossroad Publishing.
  35. Raschke, Carl (1988). "New Age Economics". In Basil, Robert. Not Necessarily the New Age: Critical Essays. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.


  • Anson, Ship. Darnell, Susan E. 2006. Agents of Discord: Deprogramming, Pseudo-Science, and the American Anticult Movement. Transaction Publishers.
  • Epstein, Jonathon S. Painted Black review in Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 20, No. 3 (May, 1991), pp. 439–440. American Sociological Association.
  • Dyrendal, Asbjørn. Lewis, James R. Petersen, Jesper AA. 2015. The Invention of Satanism. Oxford University Press.
  • Gallagher, Eugene V. 2004. The New Religious Movements Experience in America. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  • Gardell, Mattias. 2003. Gods of the Blood. Duke University Press.
  • Gunn, Joshua. 2005. Modern Occult Rhetoric: Mass Media and the Drama of Secrecy in the Twentieth Century. The University of Alabama Press.
  • Hanegraaff, Wouter J. 1995. "From the Devil's Gateway to the Goddess Within: The Image of the Witch in Neopaganism" in Kloppenborg, Ria. Hanegraaff, Wouter J. Female Stereotypes in Religious Traditions. Brill.
  • Hernandez, Lance. 2012. "DU religious studies professor says marking on cross in Jessica Ridgeway case may be significant"., Oct, 22, 2012. Accessed January 13, 2016.
  • Jenkins, Phillip. 1998. Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America. Yale University press.
  • Latham, Robert. 2007. Consuming Youth: Vampires, Cyborgs, and Cultural Consumption. University of Chicago Press.
  • Laycock, Joseph P. 2015. Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds. University of California Press.
  • Pike, Sarah M. 2012. "Wicca in the News" in Winston, Diane (editor). The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the American News Media, pp. 289–303. Oxford University Press USA.
  • Showers, Carlton. 1989. "Crime Satanic Curses". D Magazine, June 1989. Accessed January 13, 2016.
  • Versluis, Arthur. 2006. The New Inquisitions: Heretic-Hunting and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Totalitarianism. Oxford University Press.
  • Walter, Robert. 2013. Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Wesleyan University Press.
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