The Myth of Disenchantment Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences Synopsis
A great many theorists have argued that the defining feature of modernity is that people no longer believe in spirits, myths, or magic. Jason A. Josephson-Storm argues that as broad cultural history goes, this narrative is wrong, as attempts to suppress magic have failed more often than they have succeeded. Even the human sciences have been more enchanted than is commonly supposed. But that raises the question: How did a magical, spiritualist, mesmerized Europe ever convince itself that it was disenchanted? Josephson-Storm traces the history of the myth of disenchantment in the births of philosophy, anthropology, sociology, folklore, psychoanalysis, and religious studies. Ironically, the myth of mythless modernity formed at the very time that Britain, France, and Germany were in the midst of occult and spiritualist revivals. Indeed, Josephson-Storm argues, these disciplines' founding figures were not only aware of, but profoundly enmeshed in, the occult milieu; and it was specifically in response to this burgeoning culture of spirits and magic that they produced notions of a disenchanted world. By providing a novel history of the human sciences and their connection to esotericism, The Myth of Disenchantment dispatches with most widely held accounts of modernity and its break from the premodern past.
The Myth of Disenchantment Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences Press Reviews
I know of no other study that offers such an ambitious reassessment of the genealogy of the notion of disenchantment. Building on impressive historical research, Josephson-Storm offers innovative readings of foundational social scientific and theoretical texts. This book is a major addition to the critical literature exploring the origins and nature of modernity. --Randall Styers, author of Making Magic: Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World A superb book. The kind that turns your brain upside down and gives it a good shake. --Peter J. Leithart, author of Gratitude: An Intellectual History As a factual matter, 'magic never truly vanished.' We're told that the Reformation disenchanted Western Europe, but Luther threw his inkpot at the devil and Puritans put witches on trial. The rise of science has been blamed for destroying magic, but Newton dabbled in alchemy and spent his free evenings puzzling over the Book of Daniel. Modernity's elites have always included more than a few spiritualists, theosophists, occultists, and magicians. . . .Josephson-Storm asks the key question: How did this factual myth become one of the myths that defines the modern age. . . .In Josephson-Storm's telling, the cultural trajectory of the past two centuries has not been 'disenchantment' so much as 'de-Christianization.' . . .We need to get the story right to understand the world we live in. Our choice isn't between enchanted religion and 'disenchanted' modernity. We'll be more clear-sighted when we recognize that the choice is more typically among rival enchantments. --First Things As he traces the story, Josephson-Storm brilliantly pulls open the curtain on one of our oft-told and rarely questioned modern myths, helping us better to see to see the motley crew responsible for its production. . . .Josephson-Storm's real gift is in making visible that a deanimated material world is not simply 'the way things are, ' but an accomplishment of shared human understanding. --The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society Josephson-Storm reveals the intentions that led him to write the book--a critique of the idea that magic and loss of magic are opposites, and that the former led to a superstitious society and the latter to a secularized and modern society. Starting from these considerations, the author's overriding objective is to demystify both Weberian disenchantment and the criticisms of modernity of Adorno, Horkheimer, and the postmodernists. The book shows, conversely, that magic and secularism are not opposites but have coexisted and contributed to building contemporaneity, intertwining in various ways. --History of Psychology Everything is different, but nothing has changed. Apparently, the adage applies to magic and modernity as well. Josephson-Storm's foray is much like the Latourian 'we've never been modern' saga, but focused more specifically upon the status of myth-making as it pertains to faith, spiritual practices and the philosophy of religion over the last century or so. --Kritikos Storm proposes an interesting and acute analysis. His intriguing conclusion is 'an attempt to undo the myth that there is no myth.' It suggests a new interpretation of an important issue of social and cultural history as well as a broader framework. We need to historicize the myth of modernity and its various incarnations in European social theory and Storm helps us to do so. --Journal of Ecclesiastical History Historical evidence is easily neglected, Josephson-Storm argues, when it crosses the grain of what we ought to believe. Disenchantment is a foundational myth of the new human sciences that emerged during the nineteenth century. By treating magic and religion as anachronisms, anthropology and sociology reinforced the myth of disenchantment, while promoting their own claim to scientific status. A taboo invites its own subversion. So, too, with disenchantment. The disavowal of the occult typically involved the public rejection and the private embrace of various enchantments.... This, Josephson-Storm suggests, is the very mechanism of occult disavowal. His book is a treasure trove of examples. --Egil Asprem Inference: International Review of Science The Myth of Disenchantment offers a valuable lesson to self-consciously modern, Western analysts of international affairs. It reminds us that the concepts by which we define and justify our intellectual pursuits are myths. This is not to say that they lack any bearing on the real world, but rather to note that they function more to regulate our intellectual conduct than they do to describe a collection of historical facts. That being the case, Josephson-Storm gives us the chance to pause and ask what other myths we might take for granted in our analysis; he reminds us that many of the tools by which we study global affairs first developed to divide the west from the rest, and therefore enjoins us to ask whether how much our intellectual labor is really describing conditions as they are elsewhere in the world, and how much is simply repeating a story about who we've come to believe we ought to be. --The Metropolitan Society for International Affairs The Myth of Disenchantment is a model monograph: a work that condenses a dizzying array of information into a tightly woven and significant argument and then relays it in easily understandable and enjoyable prose. Its impact on the field at large is sure to be felt. --Journal of the American Academy of Religion This is a significant book. The Myth of Disenchantment is ambitious and well written, horizon broadening and provocative. . . . The book is definitely worthy of recommendation. It draws on modern esotericism research, engaging in a tradition where it demonstrates the importance of network thinking and circulation between domains. It is interesting as research history, and it is a breath of fresh air to the puritanical idealism that puts Western thinking on a pedestal undefiled by the muddiness of reality. It forces the sociologist to reconsider whether secularization and disenchantment are necessarily causally linked, and it vexes the science of religion's self-understanding as a disciplinary tradition with a safe distance from the object it interprets and explains. In other words, the book is definitely recommended for critical reading. --J rn Borup, Religionsvidenskabeligt Tidsskrift The author displays impressive erudition in tackling what is, by any standards, a massive undertaking. . . Josephson-Storm exhaustively traces the development of Western thought on this subject through history to the present time, and convincingly argues that the magic never really went away after all. . . .While the underlying theme is eminently simple and understandable, some of the philosophical arguments become immensely complex. This book is a serious academic work. . .yet he reveals a capacity for lightness of touch. . . The Myth of Disenchantment is a most stimulating and informative book. --Magonia Review of Books The Myth of Disenchantment is a work of considerable clarity and directness. . .notable for its lucidity. . . . The Myth of Disenchantment is essential reading for those interested in the history of the modern humanities. It is directly engaged in this emerging field, investigating the figures and practices that constitute the history of the study of religion, critical theory, and other 'human sciences.' It features insightful syntheses of previous work, as well as original research into both obscure and well-worn areas of inquiry. . . offers a strong basis for future work. --History of Humanities