VIEWSrnThe Inner DarknessrnSerial Murder and the Nature of Evilrnby Philip JenkinsrnEvery society has its mythology, its particular set of heroesrnand monsters. In North America over the last decade, thernfigure of the demon or monster has come to be represented byrnthe serial killer, an image that is now quite ubiquitous in popularrnculture. In a typical chain bookstore, a B. Dalton orrnWaldenbooks, it is easy to find 50 to 60 titles dealing with thernserial killer in fact or fiction, and the number of new novels onrnthe theme is approaching two a month. In the “true crime”rnsection, figures like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Joel Rifkinrnare celebrated in countless red-on-black-covcred paperbacksrnwith repetitive titles, each suggesting themes of death, blood,rnhunting, and mutilation.rnPopular fascination with serial killers is often denounced asrnprurient or condemned as sexist wish-fulfillment, but these approachesrnare simplistic, or at least do not fully reflect the quiterncomplex mythological foundations of the genre: the monstrous,rninhuman killers and the heroic mind-hunters who venturerninto the psychic borderiands where they can encounter andrnentrap their prey, even at considerable risk to their own souls.rnThe serial murder theme presents, albeit in the contemporaryrnPhilip Jenkins is a professor of religious studies and history atrnPennsylvania State University and author of Using Murder:rnThe Social Construction of Serial Homicide (1994).rnlanguage of social and behavioral science, a mythology of thernconflict between good and evil, and the massive appeal of thisrnimagery indicates a widespread need to place current problemsrnin a context that is moralistic and heroic and that accepts thernabsolute verity of the concepts of virtue and sin: in short, a religiousrncontext. Popular culture is therefore succeeding inrnproviding interpretations of objective moral evil of the sort thatrnis lacking elsewhere in public discourse—in politics, in criminalrnjustice, in education, and, perhaps most conspicuously, inrnthe vast majority of churches and synagogues. The power andrninfluence of this imagery go far toward explaining popular attitudesrntoward crime and justice, attitudes that legislators andrnsocial theorists neglect at their peril. And however sensationalizedrnand packaged for tawdry crime books, the serial killerrndoes tell us something about the limits of moral relativism.rnSerial murder is an extremely rare offense. At any given time,rnthere arc probably between 50 and 80 active serial killers in thernUnited States, “active” in the sense of having killed repeatedlyrnbefore and intending to kill again, and these killers probablyrnaccount for about 400 victims each year. The number mayrnsound horrendous, but it is no more than one percent of allrnhomicides, or 0.01 percent of all deaths that occur in anyrngiven year. Nor is this, as is sometimes stated, solely a contemporaryrnphenomenon. Per capita, there were probablyrn16/CHRONICLESrnrnrn