chapter  10
16 Pages

Magic objects/modern objects: heroes’ house museums

Museums are often compared with temples as the religious sites of the modern age, and museum visiting is correspondingly regarded as a ritual enactment of communion with the sacred values of modern society. The church built on faith and the museum grounded in science constitute an institutional binary that bookends the great shift of modern society that Weber called the disenchantment of the world. Yet more and more cases are being presented to suggest that magical modes of understanding not only persist but thrive in the shadow of the dominant ideology of authoritative, scientific knowledge (Hughey 1979, Saler 2006). Cases of persistent magical thinking are partly fed by resistance and may be dedicated to undermining the scientific paradigm, such as alternative medicine; and are partly condoned by the majority view, permitted in some circumstances, even enjoyed in a playful suspension of disbelief, as with astrology. Further, some magical survivals translate fluently into the modern era under the rubric of civil religion, the mightily effective mobilisation of the forms of ecclesiastical religion to the service of the state, epitomised by rituals of patriotism.