Magic and the rise of science

80d520a6-cbfd-11e5_1209878kDiane Purkiss at The Times Literary Supplement:

What fascinates Copenhaver is the overlap between magic and science. His anthology probes the moment when “the author of a scientific encyclopedia wrote that the skin of a hyena will ward off the evil eye”. Drawing on Max Weber’s idea of a “disenchanted world”, Copenhaver uses the unusual form of the anthology to trace the arc of disenchantment. Magic, Weber thought, was ritual while religion is ethical; magic coerces, but religion supplicates. Yet, by Weber’s standards, Moses and Jesus were magicians (as Christopher Marlowe also noted, allegedly saying that “Moses was but a juggler, and one Harriot, Wat Ralegh’s man, can do more than he”). Copenhaver seems unaware of other recent responses to Weberian thinking, notably Morris Berman’s The Re-enchantment of the World (1981), which takes a hard and critical look at Cartesian rationality and materialism.

Yet Copenhaver’s choice of texts does little to unsettle the assumption that Protestants are sceptical. While Protestant polemicists went to inordinate lengths to portray their Catholic opponents as either jugglers or as actual Satan-worshippers, these endeavours did not make them appear rational, but simply fearful. Later, the idea of Catholic demon-worshippers was turned into the equally fictive idea of Catholic witch-hunters, even though many of the worst witch-hunts took place in Protestant-dominated places. For Whigs, magic eventually collapses into science, and alchemy into economics and mercantilism, while household theurgies are displaced by insurance policies and the welfare state. But what about all the people for whom this doesn’t appear to have happened?

more here.