Article

Magic

Pamela A. Moro

in Anthropology

ISBN: 9780199766567
Published online January 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0051
Magic

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Theories of magic began with the mid-19th century origins of anthropology. Despite periodic attempts to dissolve the concept of magic or fold it within broader considerations of religion, magic as a term or category resurfaces in anthropology with remarkable persistence. In general, the term refers to beliefs and behaviors in which the relationship between an act and its effect is not empirically or scientifically verified but, from a Western perspective, rests on analogy or a mystical connection. Most frequently, theorists have applied the term to non-Western peoples or cultural “others.” Early anthropologists and sociologists postulated magic as an evolutionary stage, contrastable with religion, or as evidence of primitive as opposed to rational thinking. With the dawn of the ethnographic method, functionalist and psychological interpretations emphasized magic as a way of fulfilling emotional and social needs. Understandings of magic varied little for much of the 20th century, with countless scholarly works repeatedly resuscitating a small number of key theorists. During the last quarter of the 20th century, new ethnographic research and theoretical assessments led to a revival of interest in magic, with the familiar term applied in new ways and in new contexts, especially emphasizing magic in connection to modernity and the power of the state.

Article.  7572 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology ; Human Evolution ; Medical Anthropology ; Physical Anthropology ; Social and Cultural Anthropology

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