Magic and the Regulation of Reason

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

 Magic and the Regulation of Reason

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This chapter examines the scholarly literature in which magic is defined as faulty or inchoate science. The chapter begins by examining early theoretical constructions of the “primitive”; irrational (or pre-rational) magical thought was seen by numerous early anthropologists and sociologists as a definitive index of the superstitious primitive mind. While the notion of the “primitive” has become intellectually untenable, magic nonetheless retains a central role in subsequent discussions of the nature and limits of modern rationality (often standing as shorthand for non-modern mental and social processes). Finally, the chapter moves to explore recent disputes among historians over the role of medieval natural magic in the emergence of early modern science. Positioned at (or beyond) the boundary of rationality, magic serves both as the foil against which distinctive forms of Western science are defined and as the decisive test of scientific rationality's ability to explain the irrational.

Keywords: magic; modernity; primitives; rationality; science; superstition

Chapter.  19714 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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