The Emergence of Magic in the Modern World

Randall G. Styers

in Making Magic

Published in print February 2004 | ISBN: 9780195151077
Published online January 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780199835263 | DOI:

Series: AAR Reflection and Theory in the Study of Religion Series

 The Emergence of Magic in the Modern World

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This chapter offers an account of the social and intellectual contexts within which definitions of magic emerged in the modern West, beginning with various early modern philosophical responses to the European witchcraft persecutions. Following the Reformation and the Enlightenment, intellectualized and privatized notions of religion gained prominence, particularly in Protestant anti-Catholic polemics. Coupled with this development was the proliferation of capitalism and Western science, both of which assert distinctive forms of mechanistic and rational manipulation of nature. Finally, with the European conquest of much of the non-Western world, the discourse on “primitive” culture came to play a significant role in legitimating colonial conquests and exploitation. In this context, magic came to serve as a particularly pliable tool in efforts to prescribe norms for liberal religious piety, modern scientific rationality, and capitalist social relations.

Keywords: capitalism; Christianity; colonialism; Enlightenment; magic; modernity; religion; science; witchcraft

Chapter.  20182 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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