Re-enchantment: What is it? Who wants it? Good questions, and ones that we explore from various angles in this issue. But some readers may question why we bother to address the topic at all. They may share the general outlook that informs The Joys of Secularism, a volume of sharply reasoned essays dedicated to the proposition that “building our world on a foundation of the secular is essential to our contemporary well-being; and that such a world is capable of bringing us to the condition of ‘fullness’ that religion has always promised.”
One of the contributors to that volume, Bruce Robbins, a professor of literature at Columbia University, announces his position in the title of his essay: “Enchantment? No, Thank You.” He then proceeds to address the murkiness of the word itself, beginning with the ambiguities of Max Weber’s concept of disenchantment. As Robbins helpfully reminds us, Weber used the German word Entzauberung (the elimination of magic)—itself a loose appropriation of the poet Friedrich Schiller’s word Engotterung (de-divinization)—when he introduced the concept in his seminal 1917 lecture, “Science as a Vocation.” But what Weber meant was never exactly clear. If he intended the word to mean the eclipse of religion in the modern world, then what did he mean in his earlier work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, when he argued that religion, and particularly Christianity, had been responsible for the elimination of magic?