Thank you for you review of the book! It makes a number of good points and I very much appreciate the attempt to put the book in conversation with the older historiography.
Unfortunately, it does not accurately convey the book’s main arguments, it mischaracterizes previous scholarship, cherry picks quotes, and it even skips whole chapters. This is probably my fault as the book is dense (in part due to publishing constraints) and it doesn’t skim very well. I also made the mistake of burrying some of its more significant claims in different chapters. So at the least, I hope fellow subscribers to this h-list will make up their own minds about what the book is arguing, A free pdf of the introduction to The Myth of Disenchantment can be found here.
That said, I think the reviewer and I have at least two broad areas of substantive disagreement that might be worth exploring. Namely, 1) we disagree over the Protestant influence on the history of the Human Sciences, and 2) we disagree about the Protestant origins of the disenchantment narrative. I think these are both issues likely to be of interest to subscribers to H-Sci-Med-Tech, if so please read on.
1) The Protestant Influence on the Human Sciences seems to be the main source of criticism in this review. We disaggree. But we differ less than the review seems to suggest. Newer scholars who have never themselves published books often criticize a book on one topic for not being a book on another topic (e.g. a book on Hegel would have been so much better if it was really about Luther). The critique expounded here amounts to a similar line of criticism. The reviewer seems to wish my book had been more about the Protestant influences on the birth of the Human Sciences.
In point of fact, I agree that Protestantism and Protestant theology were an important influence on the history of the human sciences and disenchantment, (see below). I discuss these issues repeatedly. A quick glance would show you that 52 out 411 pages reference Protestantism. So The book was about 1/8 about Protestantism (maybe more), but it is not the primary subject of my book. There is plenty of room for more histories of the Protestant influences on the birth of the disciplines and I strongly would encourage the reader to write such as work.
I’d also add that the reviewer's assertion that “the human sciences emerged out of Protestantism” would only be true if you ignored all the Jews, Catholics, and Theosophists involved the birth of these disciplines and pretended that France was a Protestant country. In other words, it is would be a misleading exaggeration.
As I argue in this book (and the one before) I see instead multi-confessional (and indeed not just European) influences on the birth of the Human Sciences. But this whole argument mislays the book's main focus. I was not trying to argue for the most significant religious influence, but rather I was excavating the history of Horkheimer & Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment and I becamse interested in how the various disciplines internalized notions of “modernity” the end of belief in myth, magic, or spirits. I found it fascinating that theories of a disenchanted European modernity emerged in the very moment and social milieu in which spiritualism, theosophy, and occults movements were flourishing.
2) Our more serious point of disagreement is the relationship between Protestantism and disenchantment narratives. One of the most often repeated claims in the historiography is that Protestantism is disenchanting. We owe this claim in part to Max Weber, but it is actually a (partial) misreading of Weber as I show in the book.
Again, I want to emphasize that I discuss the Protestant influences on various “disenchantment narratives” throughout and I do think they represent an important factor. But I also argue there are a number of reasons we might want to complicate the narrative of Protestantism as necessarily disenchanting.
My reasons are three-fold:
1st) The “myth of disenchantment” is older than Protestantism. As I discuss, long before the Reformation, there were folk tales and legends about the departure of the fairies or the vanishing of magic; these stories might be said to be the “beginning of the myth”—but they did not deny the existence of either magic or fairies, but rather said that such things were now harder to find than they once were. For instance, Chaucer, in The Tale of the Wyf of Bathe (ca. 1380–1400) already says that the land was once full of fairy enchantment, but by the fourteenth century, nobody could see the elves anymore. Even in European antiquity, spell-books often claimed to be recovering vanished or forgotten magical arts. Stories of the contemporary loss of magic were often part of staging magic’s putative return. In this respect, magic is constantly vanishing, even as magicians have claimed to recover it. As I show this was a storytelling move that was then picked up on by social scientists, philosophers, and self-avowed occultists who formulated the idea that modernity was disenchanted, even as they disagreed about whether lost magic could be recovered. In sum, disenchantment is actually part of the trope of magic itself and has been for a very long time. There is no enchantment without disenchantment.
2nd) The Reformation was both enchanting and disenchanting. I discuss Protestant anti-superstition campaigns at length and I do think Protestant theology is important (although Catholics led similar attacks on superstition in the Counter-Reformation). But I also argue the Reformation can be read as “demonization” or an exorcism of demonic influences (which is closer to what Weber meant by “Entzauberung” ). As I put in the book:
"In the hands of the Protestant reformers, “superstitious” was often deployed as a near synonym to “Catholic.” But by using this language, Protestant theologians were not disenchanting Catholicism—if anything, they were linking the Papacy to paganism and witchcraft. Indeed, Luther titled one of his later works “Against the Papacy at Rome, Founded by the Devil” (Wider das Papsttum zu Rom, vom Teufel gestiftet, 1545). Lest the reader think this is mere metaphor, one might note that in his commentary on Galatians (1535), Luther states explicitly, “For it is undeniable that the devil lives, yes, rules, in all the world. Therefore witchcraft and sorcery are works of the devil, by which he not only injures people but sometimes, with God’s permission, destroys them.” He also charged his theological opponents with being literally inspired by the devil. Statements of this sort were not confined to Luther but can be seen in the language of many of the reformers. Hence, one of the principal rhetorical innovations of the period was the transposition of demonological discourse about witches and heretics onto the Roman Church itself. In a nutshell, one might describe the Protestant Reformation (contra-Weber) as producing a super-enchantment of Europe by making the Catholic Church seem both pagan and magical.”
3rd) Contemporary Protestants still believe in miracles and often hold New Age beliefs. The review brings up film “Noah” (2014) and describes contemporary Evangelicals as disenchanted. But the contemporary sociological evidence strongly pushes agains this claim.
I think it is quite telling that one of the chapters of my book that was skipped completely in this reviewer's summary was my discussion of contemporary sociological evidence including both qualitative and quantitative data. For instance, according to a Pew Survey (2007) that I discuss, 79 % of USA Americans believed that “miracles still occur today as in ancient times.” While according to a set of Baylor Religion Survey surveys (2005, 2007), that I discuss 68% believe in that “demons exist” and 54% believe that “people can be possessed by devils and demons.” Moreover, belief in demonic possession and miracles is correlated with both Evangelical identification.
Since the book came out there has been more corroborating evidence. A recent BBC Survey observed that “Three in five British adults say miracles are possible today” with younger British adults being more rather than less likely to believe in miracles. Even tellingly, a recent Pew Survey survey suggested that 57% of Protestants have at least one New Age belief. Incidentally, it also provides evidence for my larger claim that we need to analytically differentiate disenchantment and secularization because New Age beliefs are common to “nonreligious” Americans as well. New Age’ beliefs common among both religious and nonreligious Americans
I think part of of the reason we've gotten in this muddle is that the reviewer has overlooked my basic distinction between attempts to disenchant and the claim that modernity is disenchanted. The first is a program, the second is presented as an already accomplished fact. Two are are often entwined but equally often they are in conflict. For instance, assertions of a disenchanted present are sometimes connected to magical revivals. Simiarly, the call to disenchant is often predicated on the idea that magic is present but needs to be purged.
All that is to say, I appreciate the chance for dialogue. I want to reiterate that some of the reviewer's summary is very good and I've appreciated some of the reader's comments. I also very much agree with the reviewer’s assessment that Protestantism was part of the context of the birth of the Human Sciences and I say explicitly that Protestant anti-Catholicism was one of the sources of the myth of disenchantment. I also agree with a broader trend of de-Christianization (and have said as much in print). But I think the reviewer is asking me to have written a different book, and has failed to engage with its main arguments and evidence (which even in my long winded reply I have been unable to fully explore).
Finally, I’d happy to say more about my alternative to the so-called "conflict between religion and science” (incidently I think the conflict model has been conclusively discredited and I'd be happy to explain why). But I’d suggest Peter Harrison’s The Territories of Science and Religion, which is excellent.
For a more representative review of The Myth of Disenchantment, see: Heyes Journal of the American Academy of Religion (send me a private email if your institution does not subscribe to OUP and I would be happy to email you a copy) or you'd be encouraged to read one of the others listed here.
Again, Thank you for the review. I hope readers find this additional clarification useful.
Jason Josephson Storm
Chair and Associate Professor of Religion
Chair of Science & Technology Studies
Dear Dr. Jason Josephson-Storm,
First of all, thank you for responding to my review. Forgive me for the delay in my own reply. It was my editor who in fact informed me that you had commented on this review.
I want to assure you that I read every word of your book, including all of your footnotes. I wrestled with it for months. I also wrestled with reviewing it. I have followed the response to your book very closely, and I read other reviews of your book, many of them which you mention on your blog—but others as well. It is a big book that makes many different, subtle, and interconnecting arguments. I can only imagine all the drafts and revisions it took to come to a final, coherent storyline. In reviewing it, my editor and I also went through several drafts before it reached a reasonable length that satisfied both of us. The original review was almost twice as long. In short, being selective was necessary. In an earlier draft, for example, I did mention the importance of recent sociological surveys which show continued belief in miracles and magic. But that data is so widely known among scholars of religion, I saw little reason to repeat it in the review. I also did not think the chapter on Aleister Crowley added anything to your argument (and I think most readers would agree), so I left it out.
Since I tried to focus on your most salient points, and quoted you a length several times, I’m a bit disappointed with the accusation that I did not accurately convey the book’s “main arguments,” and thus believe the accusation is unwarranted. The review is as long as it is because I was determined to convey, in detail (indeed, in much greater detail than what other reviewers have done) the main story of the book. You’ve accused other critical reviewers of getting your argument “wrong”—but perhaps it is an issue of clarity, consistency, and structure of argument rather than the failure of readers.
That the human sciences and the myth of modernity had their “paradoxical origins in the shared terrain between spiritualists, sorcerers, and scholars,” there is no doubt. But in my review, I wanted to point out something that other reviewers had missed and to offer a taste of my own research interests as an intellectual historian of religion. To some extent, I’m glad your focus was not on Protestantism as such, for I have indeed written just such a book in reference to the origins, development, and popularization of the “conflict thesis,” the notion that science and religion are fundamentally at odds. I’m also glad you mentioned Peter Harrison’s The Territories of Science and Religion in your concluding comments, which is quite good and one which I’m quite familiar with as Peter was my PhD supervisor when it was published. Those who’ve read Peter’s book will undoubtedly see his influence on my own forthcoming work.
So you have to understand that my review was not simply a summary, but rather a critical interpretation of your book and the scholarship you cite. Whether or not I agree with that scholarship is a different matter. At any rate, I’m familiar with your area of research. My own graduate work focused on “Hermes Trismegistus in the Western Christian Tradition,” which was just as ambitious in scope as The Myth of Disenchantment. Indeed, while reading your book I was struck with how much your argument agreed with my own views during this period. As I wrote in the review, anyone familiar with the work of Wouter Hanegraaff, Kocku von Stuckrad, Egil Asprem, and others, will not be surprised by your conclusions. I often wondered if you had Hanegraaff’s Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism (Brill, 2009) sitting on your desk as you wrote your book.
Let me now briefly address some of your most pointed criticism. You accused me of ignoring the contribution of Jews, Catholics, and Theosophists in the birth of the human sciences. I’m very aware of their contribution. Again, as an intellectual historian, I was pointing out that certain Protestant ideas (or ideals) played a critical role in formulating concepts in the discipline of the human sciences. These early pioneers, whatever their religious affiliation (or lack thereof), were influenced by Protestant ideais of freedom of conscience, private judgment, individualism, and so on.
A related criticism is that the “myth of disenchantment” is older than Protestantism. Of course it is. You give the example of Chaucer, but we can go back even further, to the Hebrew prophet Isaiah and his mocking polemic against the ineffectual Babylonian idols (Isaiah 46.1-13). The Abrahamic tradition has a long history of “disenchanting” the world. But this story did not become systematic until—as you point out not only in your book but also in this response—“social scientists, philosophers, and self-avowed occultists” formulated the idea of modernity. And I have argued in my review that the scholars who did this were either brought up as Protestants or were surrounded by Protestant ideas. I think we’re missing the forest for the trees if we simply focus on the continued existence of folk tales, legends of fairies, magic, and the like. Once the Protestant reformers constructed a new kind of historiography, emphasized a more “rational” theology against Roman Catholics and religious enthusiasts in general, and privatized religion to the individual conscience, it opened the floodgates, allowing for the revival of esoteric beliefs and practices. In my assessment, the dominance of a Protestant milieu and a Protestant reading of nature is not only the key to understanding the persistence of the disenchantment myth, but also that the Protestant milieu itself brings about the interest in the occult against the background of that very disenchantment. The human sciences may have had multi-confessional origins, but all this occurred in a world deeply influenced by Protestant ideas. My contention—and the contention of many other scholars, including Peter Gay, Richard H. Popkin, Michael J. Buckley, James Turner, Bernard Lightman, Charles Taylor, Brad Gregory, and Dominic Erdozain, among others—is that that religious leaders, wittingly or unwittingly, advanced the narrative of disenchantment in some shape or form. Thus, when social scientists, philosophers, and self-avowed occultists appeared, they had an abundant selection of rhetorical strategies, historiography, and polemic to construct their own narratives of disenchantment.
I cannot fault you for not writing the kind of book I would’ve written. Moreover, I also share your desire of dismantling the “myth of disenchantment” and revealing the esoteric undercurrents of modernity. But I’m not at all convinced that what is said in your book is particularly new, or particularly accurate.