Magic and the Regulation of Desire

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 Desire

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The chapter begins by exploring various psychological theories in which magic is seen as a product of inchoate or inordinate desire. Whether asserting that magic is socially reactionary and authoritarian or fundamentally anti-social and anarchical, theorists have regularly seen magic as a threat to a productive social order. The dominant scholarly construction of magic has legitimated two distinct channels through which human needs are to be constructed and resolved: a spiritualized religious realm (to shape certain aspects of human identity and assuage internal tensions) and a rationalized scientific realm (to govern appropriate manipulation of the material world). With magic deployed as the stigmatized mediator between religion and science, the secularizing separation between these two channels is reinforced, and capitalism and Western science are relegated broad instrumental control of the material world. Even recent scholarly efforts to reverse the negative valence of magic maintain important elements of the traditional distinctions among religion, magic, and science and reinforce the paradigm in which rationalized religion and science are aligned with capitalist social relations.

Keywords: capitalism; colonialism; desire; magic; modernity; power; secularization

Chapter.  24393 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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