The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences (Paperback)

The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences By Jason Ananda Josephson Storm Cover Image
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A great many theorists have argued that the defining feature of modernity is that people no longer believe in spirits, myths, or magic. Jason Ā. Josephson-Storm argues that as broad cultural history goes, this narrative is wrong, as attempts to suppress magic have failed more often than they have succeeded. Even the human sciences have been more enchanted than is commonly supposed. But that raises the question: How did a magical, spiritualist, mesmerized Europe ever convince itself that it was disenchanted?

Josephson-Storm traces the history of the myth of disenchantment in the births of philosophy, anthropology, sociology, folklore, psychoanalysis, and religious studies. Ironically, the myth of mythless modernity formed at the very time that Britain, France, and Germany were in the midst of occult and spiritualist revivals. Indeed, Josephson-Storm argues, these disciplines’ founding figures were not only aware of, but profoundly enmeshed in, the occult milieu; and it was specifically in response to this burgeoning culture of spirits and magic that they produced notions of a disenchanted world.  

By providing a novel history of the human sciences and their connection to esotericism, The Myth of Disenchantment dispatches with most widely held accounts of modernity and its break from the premodern past.

About the Author

Jason Ānanda Josephson Storm is chair and professor of religion and chair of science and technology studies at Williams College. He is the author of The Invention of Religion in Japan and The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences, both also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Praise For…

 “The Myth of Disenchantment is a model monograph: a work that condenses a dizzying array of information into a tightly woven and significant argument and then relays it in easily understandable and enjoyable prose. Its impact on the field at large is sure to be felt.”
— Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"While theories of 'reenchantment' have been proposed to account for this disparity, Josephson-Storm elegantly wields Occam’s razor in The Myth of Disenchantment to develop a new explanation: we have never really been disenchanted....Josephson-Storm’s The Myth of Disenchantment is a model monograph: a work that condenses a dizzying array of information into a tightly woven and significant argument and then relays it in easily understandable and enjoyable prose. Its impact on the field at large is sure to be felt."
— Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"An exemplary study that explores one of the central ideas that has informed modernity (as well as postmodernism and later developments). . . . The author writes in a lively style, interspersing explications of philosophical works with plenty of anecdotes, sometimes amusing, that exemplify the occult interests of often-unexpected thinkers. . . . Folklorists will benefit particularly from its demonstration not only of how their discipline's forebears contributed to continuing interest in magic but also of the paranormal among modernists."
— Journal of American Folklore

The Myth of Disenchantment is a work of considerable clarity and directness. . .notable for its lucidity. . . . The Myth of Disenchantment is essential reading for those interested in the history of the modern humanities. It is directly engaged in this emerging field, investigating the figures and practices that constitute the history of the study of religion, critical theory, and other ‘human sciences.’ It features insightful syntheses of previous work, as well as original research into both obscure and well-worn areas of inquiry. . . offers a strong basis for future work.”
— History of Humanities

“In his bravura debunking of this myth, Josephson-Storm stresses that it is a keystone of the broader narrative of Western modernity as a ‘rupture’ with its own past and non-Western cultures, facilitating imperialist projects and hierarchical distinctions. . . . What truly distinguishes this cultural history is its genealogical account of the myth through the early decades of the twentieth century, alongside the deeply researched case studies [Josephson-Storm] provides, replete with arresting details and broad-ranging insights.”
— Victorian Studies

The Myth of Disenchantment is an important book.”
— Russell McCutcheon

"As a factual matter, 'magic never truly vanished.' We’re told that the Reformation disenchanted Western Europe, but Luther threw his inkpot at the devil and Puritans put witches on trial. The rise of science has been blamed for destroying magic, but Newton dabbled in alchemy and spent his free evenings puzzling over the Book of Daniel. Modernity’s elites have always included more than a few spiritualists, theosophists, occultists, and magicians. . . .Josephson-Storm asks the key question: How did this factual myth become one of the myths that defines the modern age. . . .In Josephson-Storm’s telling, the cultural trajectory of the past two centuries has not been 'disenchantment' so much as 'de-Christianization.' . . .We need to get the story right to understand the world we live in. Our choice isn’t between “enchanted” religion and 'disenchanted' modernity. We’ll be more clear-sighted when we recognize that the choice is more typically among rival enchantments."
— First Things

"A number of recent scholars have demonstrated the ways in which the modern world is. . . often saturated with occultism, mysticism, and magic in various interesting ways. Few authors, however, have done so in quite as much detail or with such an original argument as has Jason Josephson-Storm. . . . The Myth of Disenchantment is a powerful book that forces us to rethink many of our basic assumptions in the modern history of ideas. As such, it should be of serious interest to scholars and students of religion, cultural studies, sociology, anthropology, history, and critical theory.”
— Hugh B. Urban

"The Myth of Disenchantment still stands head and shoulders above recent historical monographs on the modern Western occult. With its focus on continuities of magic in unexpected places, and demonstrations of how enchantment has often undermined itself through competing modes, a major distinguishing feature of the study is a complete lack of timidity, delving as it does straight into the heart of fiercely contested issues. Drawing on an impressive wealth of primary sources in various languages, Josephson-Storm shows a sure instinct for hidden treasures, and recovers significant associations of canonical figures with important, but now obscure, actors and ideas…. the overall level of rigour and balance displayed by Josephson-Storm is so rare that I just might try my luck at sorcery, if that’s what it takes to make him continue this line of research."
— Andreas Sommer

"As he traces the story, Josephson-Storm brilliantly pulls open the curtain on one of our oft-told and rarely questioned modern myths, helping us better to see to see the motley crew responsible for its production. . . .Josephson-Storm’s real gift is in making visible that a deanimated material world is not simply ‘the way things are,’ but an accomplishment of shared human understanding."
— The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society

“The author displays impressive erudition in tackling what is, by any standards, a massive undertaking. . . Josephson-Storm exhaustively traces the development of Western thought on this subject through history to the present time, and convincingly argues that the magic never really went away after all. . . .While the underlying theme is eminently simple and understandable, some of the philosophical arguments become immensely complex. This book is a serious academic work. . .yet he reveals a capacity for lightness of touch. . . The Myth of Disenchantment is a most stimulating and informative book.”
— Magonia Review of Books

“Josephson-Storm reveals the intentions that led him to write the book—a critique of the idea that magic and loss of magic are opposites, and that the former led to a superstitious society and the latter to a secularized and modern society. Starting from these considerations, the author’s overriding objective is to demystify both Weberian disenchantment and the criticisms of modernity of Adorno, Horkheimer, and the postmodernists. The book shows, conversely, that magic and secularism are not opposites but have coexisted and contributed to building contemporaneity, intertwining in various ways.”
— History of Psychology

“Everything is different, but nothing has changed. Apparently, the adage applies to magic and modernity as well. Josephson-Storm's foray is much like the Latourian 'we've never been modern' saga, but focused more specifically upon the status of myth-making as it pertains to faith, spiritual practices and the philosophy of religion over the last century or so.”
— Kritikos

The Myth of Disenchantment offers a valuable lesson to self-consciously modern, Western analysts of international affairs. It reminds us that the concepts by which we define and justify our intellectual pursuits are myths. This is not to say that they lack any bearing on the real world, but rather to note that they function more to regulate our intellectual conduct than they do to describe a collection of historical facts. That being the case, Josephson-Storm gives us the chance to pause and ask what other myths we might take for granted in our analysis; he reminds us that many of the tools by which we study global affairs first developed to divide the west from the rest, and therefore enjoins us to ask whether how much our intellectual labor is really describing conditions as they are elsewhere in the world, and how much is simply repeating a story about who we’ve come to believe we ought to be.”
— The Metropolitan Society for International Affairs

“Storm proposes an interesting and acute analysis. His intriguing conclusion is ‘an attempt to undo the myth that there is no myth.’ It suggests a new interpretation of an important issue of social and cultural history as well as a broader framework. We need to historicize the myth of modernity and its various incarnations in European social theory and Storm helps us to do so.”
— Journal of Ecclesiastical History

“Historical evidence is easily neglected, Josephson-Storm argues, when it crosses the grain of what we ought to believe. Disenchantment is a foundational myth of the new human sciences that emerged during the nineteenth century. By treating magic and religion as anachronisms, anthropology and sociology reinforced the myth of disenchantment, while promoting their own claim to scientific status. A taboo invites its own subversion. So, too, with disenchantment. The disavowal of the occult typically involved the public rejection and the private embrace of various enchantments…. This, Josephson-Storm suggests, is the very mechanism of occult disavowal. His book is a treasure trove of examples.”
— Egil Asprem

"This is an important historical book. It reflects a broader development in the study of religion and secularization that concerns a reorientation of our historical understanding of modernity, in particular with regard to the various religious dimensions of the secular. . . it is essential reading not only in terms of historicizing the humanities, but also with regard to approaching some of the religious layers which have contributed to the formation of what we conceive of as the secular."
— Religious Studies Review

"In his pioneering work, The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences, Jason A. Josephson-Storm, exposes the multivalent, deeply fascinating narrative of disenchantment—a variable and changing narrative that can nonetheless be widely conceived as an interpretation of history that sees the 'modern' world as having lost a sense of wonder, enchantment, and magic—as a pervasive myth that has come to structure historical and contemporary conceptions of modernity and European culture. . . . Displaying an encyclopedic knowledge of European intellectual and cultural history, in his work, Josephson-Storm pushes the reader to question not only the grand narratives of disenchantment, modernity, enlightenment, and the 'Death of God,' but also to radically challenge these very categories. . . .  Josephson-Storm succeeds by crafting a work that is as broad in scope as it is keenly attentive to the complex nuances and details of each text and thinker explored. It is a work that inspires one to radically reevaluate inherited narratives about the past and present, while also opening the reader up to the multiplicity of possibilities presented by the myths and movements of enchantment and disenchantment."
— Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft

“Simply said, this is a splendid book. It is erudite as very few other works, and very well and clearly written. It should be read by everybody who is interested in the coming about of our intellectual modern world.”
— Philosophy in Review

“Extraordinary in its scope . . . The Myth of Disenchantment will yield new layers with repeat readings . . . . With its theoretical rigor and command of global religious literature, The Myth of Disenchantment is a valuable contribution to the theories of religion.”
— Bulletin for the British Association for the Study of Religions

"Josephson-Storm’s commitment to a Foucauldian genealogical method of historical inquiry, shows fascinating places of suppressed archival knowledge that problematize the standard account of modernity. . . . Josephson-Storm’s work may prove a prescient text of further research in religious studies, critical theory, the human sciences, and evolving accounts of the emergence of Euro-American Pentecostal type movements."
— Pneuma

“This is a significant book. The Myth of Disenchantment is ambitious and well written, horizon broadening and provocative. . . . The book is definitely worthy of recommendation. It draws on modern esotericism research, engaging in a tradition where it demonstrates the importance of network thinking and circulation between domains. It is interesting as research history, and it is a breath of fresh air to the puritanical idealism that puts Western thinking on a pedestal undefiled by the muddiness of reality. It forces the sociologist to reconsider whether secularization and disenchantment are necessarily causally linked, and it vexes the science of religion’s self-understanding as a disciplinary tradition with a safe distance from the object it interprets and explains. In other words, the book is definitely recommended for critical reading.”
— Jørn Borup, Religionsvidenskabeligt Tidsskrift

"It's a bold argument that Josephson-Storm makes in The Myth of Disenchantment ― that the 'disenchantment' thesis, which underpins so much of what we take for granted in the way we think about religion and its place in human life and culture, is false. . . . And it is on this topic ― the different modes and ways in which enchantment and disenchantment take place over time ― that I believe Josephson-Storm's key contribution can be seen, because he traces how those that believe modernity necessarily means a total disenchantment arrived at that claim, and how they understood it. It is fascinating to see how many of the modern theorists who have claimed the 'disenchantment' succeeded were themselves engaged in many types of spiritually-related pursuits."
— H.A. Hellyer

“With its insightful analysis into the magical and occult inclinations of influential figures in the social sciences and study of religion, this book is undoubtedly a fascinating and important read. . . . It is a significant contribution to the fields of religious studies and philosophy, and it forces scholars to reconsider the connection between secularization and the narrative of disenchantment.”
— Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

“Jason Josephson-Storm’s The Myth of Disenchantment is an ambitious and impressive work of philosophical anthropology and cultural history. . . . He masterfully traces the myth of a mythless modernity back to its initial formulation by a small group of Romantic German philosophers and poets.”
— Journal of Contemporary Religion

"Jason A. Josephson-Storm's The Myth of Disenchantment is a dazzling work of erudition. It sets out to dispel the myth that we live in a mythless society; to refute the assumption that the modern West is a disenchanted world. lnstead, it documents what has been hiding in plain sight—the fact that magic has never gone away. . . . A work of immense research on a large canvas.”
— Timothy Larsen

"The primary source base and the scale of analyzed material are impressive. It’s a very intriguing book to read, detective non-fiction, where we learn that there is no killer as there was no murder. We've never been disenchanted, we've never been objective, as we've never been truly modern.”
— Vestnik of St Tikhon's University

"This is an ambitious, diligent, imaginative, irreverent work that is as illuminating as it is unsettling. Its courageous author unveils the public face of modernity, looks at its hidden features, but is neither blinded by its science, nor awed by its rationality...That the myth of western modernity still shapes the intellectual, cultural and political landscape of our times, even tarnishing the self-images of other civilizations, its legitimacy and veracity cannot be decided only within an intra-Western debating forum. Josephson-Storm’s radical bid to de-mythologize the disenchantment fable ought to be of supreme interest to Muslim readers as well."
— S Parvez Manzoor

"Brilliant, extensive, well-documented."
— Journal of Scientific Exploration

"Jason Ā. Josephson-Storm is a brilliant, seemingly omnicompetent scholar, and The Myth of Disenchantment is a dazzling, dizzying, demanding work. It is also well worth reading as it offers not only a trenchant questioning of the very notion of modernity and a panoramic tour of theorists and interpreters of that idea but also numerous close readings of primary sources in eight languages, scattering pithy statements and thought-provoking insights along the way."
— Church History

“The implications of this book are vast and potentially revolutionary for the humanities. Josephson-Storm’s mastery over the history of western philosophy, his sharp eye for the magical lives of the intellectuals, and his expertise in Japanese religion render his voice uniquely multidimensional, utterly original, and eerily persuasive. I am deeply excited about The Myth of Disenchantment and what it portends for both our academic fields and our human futures.”
— Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred

"A superb book. The kind that turns your brain upside down and gives it a good shake."
— Peter J. Leithart, author of Gratitude: An Intellectual History

“I know of no other study that offers such an ambitious reassessment of the genealogy of the notion of disenchantment. Building on impressive historical research, Josephson-Storm offers innovative readings of foundational social scientific and theoretical texts. This book is a major addition to the critical literature exploring the origins and nature of modernity.”
— Randall Styers, author of Making Magic: Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World

"The author dares to make a new, critical, and daring voice heard in a debate that today seems to be stuck in a specific nostalgic framework and which sometimes descends into nitpicking. This book will perhaps garner most interest among philosophers concerned with literature and narrative."
— Tijdschrift voor Filosofie (Translated from Dutch)

"If you’ve been watching the latest pitched battles in America’s culture wars, you’ve doubtless heard of the much-ballyhooed and much-denounced field of critical race theory. One thing you may not have gleaned from all the media furor, though, is that critical theory, from which critical race theory is derived, has much to offer. Jason Josephson-Storm’s intriguing study, The Myth of Disenchantment, is a good place to start."
— UnHerd
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226403366
ISBN-10: 022640336X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: May 16th, 2017
Pages: 400
Language: English