“Magic as Social Mediation”
Dr. Jesper Sørensen (Aarhus University)
Broad concepts such as ‘religion’ and ‘magic’ have been the target of sustained criticism within the last four decades. Claimed to be merely parochial expressions of Eurocentric conceptual hegemony, critical theory has suggested giving up on these concepts as etic categories of classification. In this paper, I shall argue that nothing is gained from such terminological cleansing. Rather, we should perpetually reinterpret these broad concepts as instrumental, synthetic categories useful when delineating domains of particular interest and identifying recurrent behavioral patterns. Based on a stipulative definition of magic focusing on its instrumental features, the lecture then suggests a socio-cognitive explanation of magic as (a) the behavioral mobilization of basic cognitive procedures aimed to; (b) effect a change related to recurrent problems of the nurture sphere of the extended family by; (c) embedding these actions in ritualized behavioral patterns specified by the sphere of the community. Whereas (a) and (b) are core properties of magic, (c) points to how collective rituals transform problems related the nurture sphere into anthropo-techniques sustaining social interaction at the level of the community. The functional role of magic in negotiating relations between nurture and community spheres further points to developments when such techniques are embedded in larger, more complex social organization.