Magic, Science and Religion and the Scope of Rationality

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Professor Tambiah is one of the leading anthropologists of the day, particularly known for his penetrating and scholarly studies of Buddhism. In this accessible and illuminating book he deals with the classical opposition of magic with science and religion. He reviews the great debates in classical Judaism, early Greek science, Renaissance philosophy, the Protestant Reformation, and the scientific revolution, and then reconsiders the three major interpretive approaches to magic in anthropology: the intellectualist and evolutionary theories of Tylor and Frazer, Malinowski's functionalism, and Lévy-Bruhl's philosophical anthropology, which posited a distinction between mystical and logical mentalities. He follows with a wide-ranging and suggestive discussion of rationality and relativism and concludes with a discussion of new thinking in the history and philosophy of science, suggesting fresh perspectives on the classical opposition between science and magic.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...this book will be of immense benefit to all those involved in the study of the mental and cultural life of humankind." Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"This enormously erudite but engaging study offers a tough, critical, and morally sensitive perspective on the history of central issues in anthropological theory. More than either a theoretical manifesto or a philosophical disquisition, it makes the anthropological project and the history of ideas mutually relevant to a degree rarely achieved before now." Choice

Tambiah (Harvard U.) reexamines magic, science, and religion in the context of the intellectual history of Western thought, and considers the influence of this legacy upon anthropological discourse with reference to the interpretive approaches of Tylor, Frazer, Malinowski, and Levy-Bruhl. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521374866
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 3/22/1990
  • Series: Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures Series
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Table of Contents

List of plates; Foreword Alfred Harris; Acknowledgements; 1. Magic, science and religion in Western thought: anthropology's intellectual legacy; 2. Anthropology's intellectual legacy (continued); 3. Sir Edward Tylor versus Bronislaw Malinowski: is magic false science or meaningful performance?; 4. Malinowski's demarcations and his exposition of the magical art; 5. Multiple orderings of reality: the debate initiated by Lévy-Bruhl; 6. Rationality, relativism, the translation and commensurability of cultures; 7. Modern science and its extensions; Notes; Bibliography; Index.
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