Professor conjures Satan to critique society in ‘Devil’s Ink’

What would Satan say about nuclear weapons? Or politicians and their mistresses? Or Disney World? And would he say it in a … blog? Such is the premise of Devil's Ink: Blog from the Basement Office by Elon University professor Jeffrey C. Pugh, who uses Lucifer’s point of view in a new book critiquing cultural institutions that readers may assume are necessary without considering the evil they can create.

“Hell has its own logic,” said Jeffrey C. Pugh, the Maude Sharpe Powell Professor of Religious Studies. “I want to confront the reader with whether or not they’ve embraced the logic of hell within the societal structures they live under.”

Published by Fortress Press, the book is already receiving glowing reviews, with Publishers Weekly lauding Pugh as “so winsome a voice for evil that readers will have to remind themselves not to adopt his point of view.”

“What I want is for the reader to start asking questions, to think about things in a way they haven’t before,” Pugh said in a recent interview. “Hell has its own logic. I want to confront the reader with whether or not they’ve embraced the logic of hell within the societal structures they live under.”

From the economy and capitalism, to political parties and government systems, to churches in society, Pugh pulls no punches. “A lot of what happens to human beings happens under the power of these forces,” Pugh said. “One of the greatest powers that evil has is that we’re embedded in it and think it’s necessary.”

At 193 pages, Pugh shares with his readers in a series of transcribed “blog posts” the twisted ways in which systems can promote evil. It’s not the personal evil that men and women of faith envision – their battle with Satan over greed, or sin, or vanity – that Pugh takes aim at with his work. Rather, it’s the institutions and structures humans build that need to be challenged.

Those challenges continue online in a blog that Pugh established for reader feedback. “Satan” will periodically offer new critiques of current events at

The book will serve as the basis for the 2010-2011 Elon University Distinguished Scholar Lecture in the LaRose Digital Theatre on April 14. Pugh said he plans to read blog posts from the book to engage his audience in reflecting upon the ways that we are colonized by evil and don’t even recognize it. He cautioned that it may not always be a comfortable discussion, but it’s exactly what he intended by using the voice of the devil.

“Satan is offensive. Satan provokes,” Pugh said. “The question is whether Satan is right. Does Satan have a perspective that needs to be considered?”

Pugh joined the faculty in 1986 after earning his master of divinity degree from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and another master’s and doctorate from Drew University Graduate School in Madison, N.J. His graduate research focused on systematic and historical theology, and he continued that work after arriving at Elon. Pugh’s research has produced four books that seek approaches to religious studies that have both historical and contemporary relevance.

Those books are: Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times in 2009; Entertaining the Triune Mystery: God, Science and the Space Between in 2003; The Matrix of Faith: Reclaiming a Christian Vision in 2001; and The Anselmic Shift: Christology and Method in Karl Barth’s Theology in 1990.

At Elon, Pugh has served two terms as chair of the Department of Religious Studies. In 2000, he won the university’s Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching and, in 2006, he was named a Maude Sharpe Powell Professor of Religious Studies. He has made numerous presentations at professional meetings and conferences and written articles, book chapters and book reviews for various publications.

Pugh was a member of the committee that created The Elon Commitment strategic plan.


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