Review of "Magie: Rezeptions- und diskursgeschichtliche Analysen von der Antike bis zur Neuzeit"
What is one to make of a seven-hundred-page book that, by its own admission, only addresses the “tip of the iceberg” of its chosen topic (615)? Certainly, the topic is enormous: nothing less than the twenty-five-hundred-year history of conceptions of magic in Western culture, from the ancient Greeks to the present day. Otto writes from the perspective of religious studies, and he reacts in particular to the century-long effort by modern scholars of religion to define magic in some coherent and appropriately wissenschaftlich way. In the first hundred pages of his book, Otto examines the “academic discourse of magic,” focusing mainly on the highly influential formulations of James Frazer and Émile Durkheim, although Edward Tylor, Bronislav Malinowksi, and other famous figures make supporting appearances. He concludes, unsurprisingly, that all attempts to develop universalist definitions of magic have failed. Hans Kippenberg’s notion of the “decay of the category” (Zerfall der Kategorie) becomes a touchstone throughout this section and indeed the entire book.
This article is published as Bernd-Christian Otto, Magie: Rezeptions- und diskursgeschichtliche Analysen von der Antike bis zur Neuzeit, reviewed in Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 8 (2013): 90-92. Doi: 10.1353/MRW.2013.0014. Posted with permission.