Positioning Magic in Theory and in American Religion Open Access

Ravina,Zoe (Spring 2018)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/9z902z88f?locale=en
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Abstract

This thesis explores magic as a theoretical category within the field of religious studies. Anthropological scholarship of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has described magic as different than religion or science. This scholarship also often carries Protestant or evolutionist bias in its construction of magic. In my first chapter, I analyze the works of theorists like E.B. Tylor, Émile Durkheim, and Bronislaw Malinowski. By comparing the works of these theorists and others, I outline several key elements associated with magic: the relationship between sacred and technical elements, the role of magicians, and magic’s ability to provide comfort in times of unknowing. This thesis also positions magic in American history by exploring the function of healing rituals within nineteenth century American Spiritualism. In my second chapter, I argue that Spiritualism provided a magical approach of healing, different from that of regular medicine, by focusing on comfort and optimism as well as human divinity and agency in the healing process. Medical mediums used their ability to communicate with spirits to diagnose and treat illnesses. The Spiritualists positioned themselves as an alternative to regular medicine and Protestantism. They rebelled against the Protestant constructions of death and salvation. By using Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, my third chapter argues that the Puritans actively eliminated and demonized magic because they believed it opposed the doctrine of predestination. I explore Weber’s theories of rationalization and the elimination of magic, and argue that magic is not incompatible with rationalization. Instead, disenchantment represents the demonization of magical beliefs. Spiritualism suggests that magic was not eliminated from white, Protestant, American culture. Instead, Spiritualism reflects a need for magic; the Spiritualists responded to this need by re-opening a magical path to salvation and healing closed by Protestantism and regular medicine. This suggests that the dominance of religion and science, rather than suppressing magic, can fuel its development. 

Table of Contents

Chapter One: The Construction of Magic……………………………………………………........1

Chapter Two: Healing the Body and Spirit: Spiritualist Healing as a Source of Comfort…...….14

            A World Without Hell: The Spiritualist Response to Protestantism….............................25

Chapter Three: Rationalization and the Elimination of Magic in This-Worldly Asceticism……28

            The Persistence of Magic……………………………………………………………….. 36

Bibliography…..…………………………………………………………………………………39    

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