Visiting Lectures on Magic in Religious Studies and in the Western Intellectual History
In cooperation with the Graduate School of Culture Studies and Arts, Bernd-Christian Otto, one of the leading experts on magic in Western religious and intellectual history, a fellow at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg, Bochum University, and an associated fellow at the Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, Erfurt University will hold three guest lectures on magic at the University of Tartu from March 20 to March 22, 2019.
Whereas ‘Western learned magic’ as well as ‘magick’ could be considered signifiers that refer to a specific (Western) type of religious data on the object level, the third lecture will adopt a more theoretical perspective and ponder whether ‘magic’ could be re-established as an analytical term of cross-cultural and diachronic scope. Of course, we do not want to relapse into out-dated essentialist or Eurocentric definitions, join in the chatter about so-called ‘heuristic’ (but ultimately meaningless) categories, or rely on the vagueness and arbitrariness of everyday language. Against the backdrop of these obstacles, the lecture suggests a methodological pathway that allows for conceptualising ‘magic’ as a comparative category that can be applied to any religious data, independent of its timely, geographical, or cultural contexts. Taking ‘magic’s’ Western history as an analytical starting point (which is the only plausible way to do it), the magic word is ‘conceptual reverse-engineering’: thereby, ‘magic’ is chopped into smaller bits and pieces that may be allocated to three basic domains – the (A) conceptual-intellectual, the (B) discursive, and the (C) ritual domain. The items that we find in these domains – for instance: (A1) ‘ritual’, (A2) ‘power’, (A3) ‘miracle’, and (A4) ‘wish-fulfilment’ in the domain of concepts and ideas – can then be used as tertia comparationis in a comparative framework. Exemplary findings show that this procedure may lead to more nuanced analyses of various ‘same same but different’ phenomena on the object level, but it also raises the question whether – and how – apparent similarities across different times and spaces can be explained. As this is ultimately a theoretical question, the lecture concludes with tentative suggestions of how the suggested methodological procedure may provide building blocks of a new cultural theory of ‘magic’.