Modern Western societies regard reason as the ultimate source and test of knowledge and look upon science as the primary arbiter of rationality. This is the result of an intellectual attitude that became mainstream during the age of the Enlightenment (late seventeenth-late eighteenth centuries). Towards the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, scholars discussed the relationship between science, religion, and magic. For example, for Sir James George Frazer, one of the founding fathers of modern anthropology, human belief evolved from primitive magic to religion to science.
This course will explore magic as an experimental science within the learned traditions of civilizations that we consider as fundamental for a modern Western identity: from ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome to the medieval and early modern Middle East, Byzantium, and Europe. The primary sources used for this exploration will be texts on demons, magic, divination, and the sophisticated philosophical background to such beliefs. In addition, archeological remains pertinent to these practices such as talismans, amulets, and other magical objects will be discussed.