Beyond Rationalism: Rethinking Magic, Witchcraft, and Sorcery

Beyond Rationalism: Rethinking Magic, Witchcraft, and Sorcery

Beyond Rationalism: Rethinking Magic, Witchcraft, and Sorcery

Beyond Rationalism: Rethinking Magic, Witchcraft, and Sorcery


In the decades since the collapse of socialism in eastern Europe, time has been a central resource under negotiation. Focusing on a local community that was considered a "model" in the socialist period, the author explores a variety of state-sponsored and unofficial pasts - history, folklore, and tradition - and shows how they "fit" together in everyday life. During the socialist period, the past was a central dimension of local politics and village identity. Post-socialist development has demanded a revaluation of temporality - as well as public and private space. This has led to fundamental changes in social life and political relations, reduced local resources, threatened village identity and transformed political activity through the emergence of new political elites.

While the full implications of this process are still being played out, this study underlines some of the fundamental processes prevalent across eastern Europe that help explain widespread ambiguity vis-B-vis post-socialist reform.


Bruce Kapferer

Magic, sorcery and witchcraft are at the epistemological centre of anthropology. They embed matters at the heart of the definition of modern anthropology, and the critical issues that they raise are of enduring significance for the discipline. But the questions these phenomena highlight expand beyond mere disciplinary or scholastic interest. They point to matters of deep existential concern in a general quest for an understanding of the human forces engaged in the human construction of lived realities. Anthropology in the embracing Kantian sense is involved. The phenomena that are deemed to be magic and sorcery (including all that which such scholars as Durkheim (1915) and Mauss (1972) would include under the label ‘profane’,) project towards the far shores of human possibility and potentiality. The human profundities to which they might lead are already there in the imagery and metaphors of thinkers, both abstract and concretely pragmatic, worldwide. Within European traditions the world of the magician and the sorcerer is routinely evoked to explore the continuing crisis that is faced by humankind, more recently, for example, in the works of Dante, Goethe and Nietzsche right through to the most contemporary philosophers and social commentators. The essays in these pages contend with some of the overarching existential issues towards which a concern with the magical must extend.

This introduction begins with a consideration of the somewhat narrower confines that have developed in the discipline of anthropology. But this should not obscure the fact that at the outset, the anthropology of magic and sorcery dealt with weighty issues — the foundations of religion, the underlying features of the human psyche and, indeed, the very nature of science. While these interests have persisted, over time they became narrowed or deflected onto smaller, more empirically manageable concerns. However, of late, via a renewed interest in magic and sorcery, anthropology is once more opening up to the larger . . .

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