Posts Tagged ‘enchantment’

September 14th, 2015

Cosmology and the environment

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The belief that scientific worldviews provide sufficient information and motivation to galvanize widespread action on environmental issues is gaining adherents both within and beyond the academy. The turn to science for materials from which to construct a new cosmology is evident in a variety of emerging movements that call for an evidence-based global story and a common ethic. Implicit or explicit in these movements is a conviction that existing religious traditions are too parochial (lacking global appeal) and too far removed from scientific realities and contemporary environmental concerns. Proponents of the new cosmology believe that the physical and biological sciences reveal the distinctly storied nature of our cosmos—a story that belongs to all—and that this new cosmology thus invests science with mythic, revelatory power; far from disenchanting our world, science is celebrated as a primary vehicle for restoring wonder, meaning, and value.

Can—and should—a scientific account of the universe function as a global myth? If so, what is the likely impact of contemporary scientific cosmologies on established religious traditions and environment-related beliefs and practices?

December 20th, 2013

Modernity, enchantment, and Fictionalism

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The stern visage of Max Weber looms over discussions of modernity and enchantment, as does the sunnier countenance of Charles Taylor. Perhaps they should be joined by the open faced, bluntly spoken, and allegedly poker wielding Ludwig Wittgenstein. This choice might seem counter-intuitive. Wittgenstein did not write much about enchantment, and is more often considered a disenchanter who used the tools of philosophy to dispel illusions brought about by linguistic misuse. As he wrote, “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”

March 26th, 2013

Credulity: Enchantment and Modernity in the 19th-Century U.S.

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The Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University is co-sponsoring a conference later this week on “credulity.”

March 4th, 2013

Confused parchments, infinite socialities

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Ambivalence, avoidance, hedging, delay—these are but some of my responses to Michael Warner’s richly rendered provocation and response to my book Secularism in Antebellum America.

Indeed, was antebellum America secular?

To answer his title question definitively, yes or no, is to commit oneself to a vision of the present in which religion recedes into oblivion, or flowers, or does battle with its secular other. Definitive answers, moreover, serve a politics of normativity for they help determine the ideas, objects, and persons to be jettisoned, not to mention what views of the world become authoritative, which moral feelings count, and which ones become unaccounted for and forgotten.

Warner engages crucial work on secularity even as he considers the dissolution of the entrenched differential of the religious and the secular. Consequently, Warner’s essay is also incitement for a renewed interrogation of the history of the difference between the religious and the secular and how that difference makes a difference in the lives of individuals—no less for historical actors than for the scholars who study them.

October 2nd, 2012

Was antebellum America secular?

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The question “Was Antebellum America Secular?” obviously depends on what one means by secular. Because the term is dialectical by nature and immanent to the struggles of the age, we cannot expect it to be a neutral analytic framework; like secularism or religion, it requires constant qualification to be of any analytic use. As Gauri Viswanathan has noted, in many polemical contexts “words like ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ have lost their descriptive value and function instead as signposts to given attitudes.” It is almost impossible to see the question of my title without anticipating that a question of validity will be at stake.

May 21st, 2012

Muhammad Asad and the concept of an Islamic politics

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In a talk prepared last year for a symposium on the life and work of his father, the anthropologist Talal Asad lays out Muhammad Asad’s intellectual contribution.

January 24th, 2012

Modern enchantment

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Recently released by Oxford University Press, Michael Saler’s latest volume explores the imaginary realms of the modern world.

September 14th, 2010

The sun shone fiercely through the window at Starbucks (Part II)

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Soon after reading Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, I turned to Courtney Bender’s The New Metaphysicals. It is a work of elegant inquiry and provocative precision—not only because Bender refuses to locate her subjects in a progressive history of flowering individualism, that old saw about the evolution of liberal cosmopolitanism, but because, in adopting an approach that reminded me of Brown’s reading of Marx, Bender’s portrait of new-age-Cambridge refuses Taylor’s narrative frame. Rather, Bender’s cast of characters offers critical perspective on what might be called the nova effect of arguments in the grain of Taylor. I am struck by the inadvertent but eerie parodic quality of scenes depicting homeopathic healers, yoga practitioners, past-life regressioners, shamanic drummers and bankers, energy intuitives, and lecturers in esoteric astrology. Indeed, these characters, at least on my reading, become strange reflections of Taylor’s existential élan and sober tone of explanation. They become, in other words, down-market versions of Taylor’s magisterial aspirations.

September 9th, 2010

The sun shone fiercely through the window at Starbucks (Part I)

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Let us recognize, from the outset, the delicious perversity of inviting comments upon comments about the comments about Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, itself a commentary, magisterial in scope, about the inability of Anglo-Europeans to end a certain cycle of commentary about themselves, their religion, and their humanity. Nevertheless, of the many thoughtful responses and salvos found in Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, I was most struck by Wendy Brown’s pointed and potentially devastating piece on the shortcomings of Taylor’s “odd historical materialism.”

Taylor’s sense of the material world is not unrelated to his not always implicit commitment to (or perhaps nostalgia for) the ideals of a self that flourishes, unfolds, and, at the end of the day, can be sufficiently liberated from history so as to be able to take the measure of itself—in concert, of course, with others, as they liberate themselves sufficiently from those very same forces.

September 6th, 2010

Understanding disenchantment

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Jane Bennett’s sympathetic yet critical commentary on my essay “What is Enchantment?” (published in the volume Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age) describes the notion of disenchantment that I present as primarily addressing the theological displacements that emerged with the rise of the new science. Her own work, she says, offers a quite different focus, one of a mood or affect that “circulates between human bodies and the animal, vegetable, and mineral forces they encounter.”

I don’t doubt that this interesting focus is quite different from mine, though I think it would be wrong to represent my view as being focused on the theological. In my analysis, the theological had only a central genealogical role to play in the process of “disenchantment.”

August 18th, 2010

On the call from outside

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In Akeel Bilgrami’s contribution to Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, “enchantment” refers to the historical belief that God or his divine expression is accessible to the everyday world of “matter and nature and human community and perception.” Correspondingly, “disenchantment” refers to that shift in perspective (encouraged by early modern science and its mechanistic model of nature) by which God was exiled from nature.  Bilgrami’s ultimate aim is to “reenchant” the secular age by affirming the “callings” of a world laden with “value elements.” I will say more below about this interesting notion of a call from outside and its role in ethics; let me point out now that the processes of “enchantment” and “disenchantment” are for Bilgrami, as for Charles Taylor, essentially shifts in theological orientation, different views of the relationship between God and nature.