February 15, 2023
Jason Josephson Storm on the Myth of Disenchantment
In a brilliant and wide-ranging exploration of the history of very up-to-date, very relevant ideas, we discuss the idea of ‘disenchantment’ with Jason Josephson Storm. This idea (perhaps best known from the iconic work of Max Weber, but actually not really what Weber said and not really just from Weber anyway) is that in the old days people believed in magic and spirits, but nowadays we are ‘disenchanted’, i.e. beyond all that (fill in the blank with ‘superstitious, ‘unscientific’, ‘woo-woo’, etc.) nonsense.
One of the questions Storm asks is, ‘Who are “we”, exactly?’ The implicit colonialist mindsets latent within these constructions of enchantment and disenchantment begin to percolate up into plain view.
Another question he asks is, ‘Given that there is a “we” in question, is it really true that we are beyond all that nonsense?’ It turns out, no, it isn’t, or not for a sizeable majority of “us” at any rate.
A fascinating interview which we highly recommend, and which has a lot to tell the field of western esotericism studies about what it is that we are doing, exactly.
Jason Ānanda Josephson Storm is a historian and philosopher of the Human Sciences. He is currently Professor of Religion and Chair of Science & Technology Studies at Williams College. Storm received his Ph.D. from Stanford University, his MA from Harvard University, and has held visiting positions at Princeton University, École Française d’Extrême-Orient, and Universität Leipzig in Germany. He is the author of award-winning The Invention of Religion in Japan (2012), The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity and the Birth of the Human Sciences (2017), as well as Metamodernism: The Future of Theory (2021), all published by University of Chicago Press.
Works Cited in this Episode:
Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Verso Editions, London, 1979.
Sir Francis Bacon. The Tvvoo Bookes of Francis Bacon. Of the proficience and aduancement of Learning, divine and humane. London. Henrie Tomes, London, 1605.
Hans Dieter Betz. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, volume 1. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1996.
Rhonda Byrne. The Secret. Atria, 2006.
John William Draper. History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. D. Appleton, New York, 1875.
James George Frazer. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Macmillan, London, 1939.
Jason Ā. Josephson-Storm. The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 2017.
Idem. The Invention of Religion in Japan. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 2012.
Idem. The Mystical “Occident” or the Vibrations of “Modernity” in the Mirror of Japanese Thought. In Fabio Rambelli, editor, Spirits and Animism in Contemporary Japan: The Invisible Empire, pages 29–44. Bloomsbury Academic, London, 2019.
Percival Lowell. Occult Japan: Shinto, Shamanism and the Way of the Gods. Houghton Mifflin, 1894.
Joachim Radkau. Max Weber: Die Leidenschaft des Denkens. Hanser, Munich, 2005.
Marianne Weber. Max Weber: ein Lebensbild. Tübingen, 1926.
Max Weber. Über einige Kategorien der verstehenden Soziologie. Logos: Internationale Zeitschrift für Philosophie der Kultur, IV:253–94, 1913. Subsequently republished in Max Weber, Gesammelte Aufsitze zur Wissenschaftslehre, Marianne Weber, editor (1922: 403-450).
David Gordon White. Dæmons are Forever: Contacts and Exchanges in the Eurasian Pandemonium. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 2020.
Nachman Ben-Yehuda. Witchcraft and the Occult as Boundary Maintenance Devices. In Moshe Idel, Jacob Neusner, Ernest S. Frerichs, and P.V. McCracken Flesher, editors, Religion, Science, and Magic: In Concert and In Conflict, pages 229–60. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989.
Stuart Clark. Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999.
Jacalyn Duffin. The Doctor Was Surprised; or, How to Diagnose a Miracle. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, pages 699–729, 2007.
William Eamon. Technology as Magic in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Janus Leiden, 70(3-4):171–212, 1983.
Peter Harrison. The Territories of Science and Religion. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 2015.
Richard Kieckhefer. The Specific Rationality of Medieval Magic. The American Historical Review, 99(3):813–36, 1994.
Thomas S. Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1962.
Benedek Láng. Why Magic Cannot be Falsified by Experiments. In Edward Bever and Randall Styers, editors, Magic in the Modern World: Strategies of Repression and Legitimization, pages 1–24. Penn State University Press, 2017.
Birgit Meyer and Peter Pels, editors. Magic and Modernity: Interfaces of Revelation and Concealment. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2003.
Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah. Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality. The University Press, Cambridge, 1990.
Aleister Crowley, Arthur Avalon, Ascona, Disenchantment, Edmund Spencer, Helena Blavatsky, Magic, Mysticism, Natural Magic, Occultism, Science, Solomonic Magic, Spiritualism, Stefan George, Theosophical Society
February 15, 2023
Thank You for this splendid oddcast about Entzauberung! Fabulous. I just wanted to mention the strong influence between Max Weber and Franz Kafka concerning the terms of bureaucracy and power.
Travis Wade ZINN
February 15, 2023
I’ve been following Jason’s work for a number of years – someone to watch
Metamodernism will have key practical insights to offer.
February 19, 2023
what a fantastic episode!
i wanted to point out that “tying nature to the rack” arguably goes back at least to Plato, whose Socrates describes the process of dihairesis in the Sophist/Statesman duology as “carving nature at the joints “. which is where we get the much-derided classification of man as a featherless biped, which to its credit makes perfect sense in the context of the dialogue!
i also really appreciated the bit towards the end discussing the moral neutrality of beliefs of enchantment; there’s been quite a lot of discussion since the rise of QAnon about how people can get radicalized from the nominally left-wing position of “maybe we shouldn’t be polluting and extracting so much from the earth” into the rankest antisemitism and the host of attendant bigotries that nearly always go hand in hand with it.
February 19, 2023
Thanks for the Plato ref., Emily!
On the ethical or moral weirdness of the enchantment and disenchantment ‘divide’, see the following bonus episode!
February 20, 2023
Great episode and really looking forward to digging into this book!
Just wanted to point out one minor thing though: Arthur Avalon (aka Sir John Woodroffe) was indeed “the real deal” and whose own works and editions of traditional tantric scripture are still held in high regard among contemporary, traditional lineages of Shaiva/Shakta Tantra in India.
Funny thing about his works though, is that he tried to spell out highly complex metaphysical matters to his friends in the Theosophical society, so they could get a gist on what the traditional view on them were. Yet as they rather that they are written from a perspective so engrossed in its own philosophical tradition (as well as written in a very dry, convoluted manner), it must have been almost impossible for most of his contemporary readers in the West to understand what he was on about. So what happened was that most folks just disregarded all the original philosophy and instead made up their own system concerning Yoga, Tantra, Chakras, Kundalini etc.
February 24, 2023
Great episode! I found the following quote in “The Advancement of Learning,” but I couldn’t find the beautiful quote given in the episode.
“was not the Persian Magicke a reduction or correspondence of the Principles & Architectures of Nature, to the rules and policie of Gouernments”
Different book or different edition? Thank you!
February 24, 2023
To reply: the quotation “I must here stipulate that magic, which has long been used in a bad sense, be again restored to its ancient and honorable meaning. For among the Persians magic was taken for a sublime wisdom, and the knowledge of the universal harmony of things (Lt. scientia consensuum rerum universalium)” comes from the Latin version of “The Advancement of Learning” (De Augmentis Scientiarum, 1638). It can be found in “The Works of Francis Bacon,” ed. James Spedding,
Robert Ellis, and Douglas Heath, 14 vols. (London: Longmans, 1857–74), 1:573. The translation is mine.
Bacon actually writes about Persian magic here and there another good quote is “For the Persian magic, which was the secret literature of their kings, was an application of the contemplations and observations of nature.” Bacon , “A Brief Discourse of the Happy Union of the Kingdoms,” 1603
March 6, 2023
The eternal renewal of the occult and disenchantment/reenchantment cycle seems to me very similar to fads in the way toothpaste and toothbrushes are sold.
There used to be many brands, but now each of the few remaining brands each has a new formulation every year, but they also keep the old formulations so there’s a proliferation of formulations, for example there are 60 or so different Colgate toothpastes, all of which do pretty much the same thing, clean your teeth. And so it is with metaphysics as with toothpaste, there’s a much easier delivery mechanism, meaning you can have whatever sub-brand of a brand that fits your needs (including deep cynicism). But each new thing is launched as either a reformulation of something old and valuable – Platonism, but neo, and new added Wicca, or with extra gum-bleaching with new Unobtanium, or something completely new (which finds it much harder to compete in the crowded market place. Remember when toothbrushes all had built in tongue scrapers, because it wasn’t enough that they cleaned your teeth? No one talks about these anymore, but I’m sure they’ll cycle back again.
So I’m finding it difficult to distinguish occult rebranding from a sales technique.
March 7, 2023
I seem to have gone off on one. Sorry about that. Must have had a bad sandwich for lunch.