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Book: The Relational Dynamics of Enchantment and Sacralization

Chapter: 13. After Dis/enchantment: The Profanity of the Human Sciences

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.30133


The sponsoring teleologies of the historiography of magic have tended to affirm a Weberian Entzauberung at modernity’s core. Some scholars have portrayed this as a necessary and inevitable evolutionary step, while others have lamented the apparent passing of an enchanted premodernity. Many in the arts and humanities, uneasy with triumphalist (and ethnocentric) narratives of progress, have found themselves in a position of “advocacy” for premodern enchantment, whether in a spirit of ethnographic sensitivity or of confessional enthusiasm. This has helped solidify the “two cultures” problem, famously identified by C. P. Snow as one of the principal industrial conditions of contemporary scholarship.

If the natural sciences are sincerely believed to “unweave [the] rainbow” (as John Keats has it), the humanities become counter-positioned on the Romantic side of the dispute, attempting either to re-enchant the world or, perhaps (following this volume), to recognize the latent enchantments of which it has never really been divested.

This chapter contends that the humanities are bound neither to enchant nor disenchant, but rather to act against reduction. While metaphysical scientism (or, indeed, Heidegger’s “technicity”) certainly includes forms of reductivism against which the humanities might argue, it is equally possible for narratives of enchantment and sacrality to be implicated in reductive frameworks of knowing. The humanist, then, is in the delicate position of putting things, texts and ideas beyond technical and commercial utility, while also rendering intelligible and interpretable that which is habitually presented as self-same and absolute, from sacred texts to capital itself.

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