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Book: Enchantment

Chapter: Disenchantment as Modern Myth

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.43966


In this chapter, I consider empirical evidence both for modern disenchantment and for premodern enchantment in an attempt to determine whether disenchantment provides an accurate account of historical changes or whether it is, as some scholars claim, merely an influential but ultimately misleading modern myth. I begin by noting that Max Weber, Charles Taylor, and Marcel Gauchet all fail to provide sufficient evidence to support their claims that the premodern world was enchanted in the first place. I then briefly examine textual and archeological evidence for premodern magical beliefs and practices and consider whether the available evidence is sufficient to support the specific claims concerning disenchantment put forward by each scholar. Next, I consider whether available empirical evidence supports the claim that enchanted beliefs and practices have actually disappeared in the modern world. Drawing on recent surveys, I argue that global levels of belief in magic, spirits, and invisible forces cast doubt on whether disenchantment has, in fact, taken place. Finally, I consider to what extent modern religious forms really are less magical than premodern ones in an attempt to determine whether or not religion has in fact become disenchanted as Weber, Taylor and Gauchet claim.

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