Magic in Classical Anthropology and Sociology


The readings below represent important attempts to make sense of  magic by three founders of modern sociology and anthropology: James Frazer, Emile Durkheim, and Bronislaw Malinowski. The selections from Frazer develop his influential analysis of "sympathetic magic," which in essence locates the origin of magic in a form of reasoning gone badly wrong. The selections from Durkheim represent his attempt to distinguish between magic and religion on sociological grounds, specifically by reference to the presence or absence of an organized Church. Finally, Malinowski's essay is a powerful and relatively sympathetic discussion of the relationship between magic, religion, and science, based on his extensive fieldwork among the farming communities of the Trobriand Islands in the South Pacific.


Selections from Frazer: The Golden Bough

Selection from Durkheim: Elementary Forms of Religious Life

Selections from Malinowski: Magic, Science, and Religion