The uses of re-enchantment.

Author:Freeman, Allen
Position:Works In Progress

Modernity, wrote sociologist Max Weber, is characterized by the "progressive disenchantment of the world." Is this really the whole story? Or have we experienced an overwhelming urge, since the dawn of the modern era, to fill the vacuum left by departed convictions through means that are compatible with the rational and secular tendencies of modernity? Joshua Landy and Michael Saler, editors of the book The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age, ask 10 questions about the possibility of re-enchantment in the 21st century.



  1. What exactly would re-enchantment have to achieve? If belief in God delivers multiple benefits (consolation, wonder, community, and so on), does secular re-enchantment have to provide equally diverse results? Could a single approach satisfy all of an individual's needs, or would several strategies of rational re-enchantment be simultaneously necessary?

  2. Nineteenth-century romantics feared that the modern emphasis on reason would sideline the imagination. But Sherlock Holmes became one of the most beloved fictional characters of the modern world precisely because he made reason a source of magic and adventure. (He called this the "scientific use of the imagination.") Has reason, then, really disenchanted the world? Or can reason, when understood as compatible with imagination, itself become a source of enchantment?

  3. Science is notorious for having explained away ostensible miracles: the rainbow, for example, was demoted from a sign of God's covenant to mere prismatic refraction. Still, as Arthur C. Clarke famously stated, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Is there a way to (re-)experience technology as miracle--without, of course, falling prey to marketing, consumerism, or a view of the world that is thoroughly dominated by technology?

  4. Religions distinguish the sacred from the profane, mysteries and miracles from our ordinary experiences. Yet as astrophysicist Adam Frank argues in The Constant Fire, science also yields the numinous sensation of the sacred by revealing the mysterious nature of the world we ordinarily do not see in our everyday existence. Might science become a source of natural magic, securing the sense of the sacred within a secular framework?

  5. Besides having uncovered enough strange phenomena to stock a 21st-century cabinet of wonders, modern science has demonstrated that there is something...

To continue reading