Chapter

From Magic to Social Function

Ariel Glucklich

in The End of Magic

Published in print May 1997 | ISBN: 9780195108798
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199853434 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195108798.003.0005
From Magic to Social Function

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The beginning of professional sociology signaled the end of theories that explained magic as a mental phenomenon of the individual. The crude and often provincial evolutionism to which James Frazer subscribed gave way to a genuine science of society. Sociology showed no tolerance for armchair speculations on such things as “bad science” or “errors of reasoning.” Because magic clearly served social functions, a new generation of professional sociologists set out to define and explain it in some collective manner. Emile Durkheim rejected the intellectualist idea that magic was an illusion or bad science. Durkheim was the first to replace Frazer's mentalistic interpretation of magic with a comprehensive and coherent sociological theory. Bronislaw Malinowski demonstrated that magic derives its meaning from the way it functions within the social and economic systems of the Trobriands. For Malinowski, the most important feature of Trobriand magic is the spell.

Keywords: James Frazer; Emile Durkheim; magic; sociology; bad science; errors of reasoning; social functions; Bronislaw Malinowski; spell; Trobriands

Chapter.  3796 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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