The Problem of Disenchantment: Scientific Naturalism and Esoteric Discourse, 1900–1939 is my second monograph. It is a revised and improved version of my award winning PhD dissertation with the same name. From the publisher’s blurb:
The Problem of Disenchantment offers a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to the intellectual history of science, religion, and “the occult” in the early 20th century. By developing a new approach to Max Weber’s famous idea of a “disenchantment of the world”, and drawing on an impressively diverse set of sources, Egil Asprem opens up a broad field of inquiry that connects the histories of science, religion, philosophy, and Western esotericism.
Parapsychology, occultism, and the modern natural sciences are usually viewed as distinct cultural phenomena with highly variable intellectual credentials. In spite of this view, Asprem demonstrates that all three have met with similar intellectual problems related to the intelligibility of nature, the relation of facts to values, and the dynamic of immanence and transcendence, and solved them in comparable terms.
The book was released in July 2014 by Brill, one of the few publishers that still publishes manuscripts of this length (631+xii pages). The price does not exactly cater to the private market, so make sure to ask your library to purchase it!
Here is what some distinguished scholars of religion and Western esotericism have said about the book:
This is a path-breaking book! It not only opens up an interdisciplinary space in which to analyze a range of responses to disenchantment within and between the history of religion, the history of science, and the history of esotericism, but it articulates a method – Problemgeschichte – for doing so. The method allows Asprem to surface many contending views on the place of mysterious incalculable powers in the modern world, which cut across disciplines in surprising ways, and to demonstrate the value of a critical constructivism build on naturalistic grounds for scholarly work.
– Ann Taves, University of California at Santa Barbara, author of Religious Experience Reconsidered (2009) and Fits, Trances and Visions (1999).
The complex interface between the sciences, religion, and esoteric forms of thought and experience is one of those “elephants in the living room” that many know about but almost no one knows how to talk about. Egil Asprem knows how to talk about it, and very well indeed: through a historical genealogy of the interface, through a careful tracing of the debates around the limits of reason and science, and through an astute rethinking of Weber’s seminal notion of disenchantment. The result is extremely satisfying and rich beyond measure.
– Jeffrey J. Kripal, Rice University, author of Comparing Religions (2013), Mutants and Mystics (2011), Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred (2010), etc.
Egil Asprem’s study has the potential of causing a Copernican revolution in our understanding of the “disenchantment of the world”. Grounded in meticulous textual analysis of a large sample of representative sources – from the “hard” natural sciences via psychical research to the “soft” domain of religion and esotericism – it combines sensitive historical research with sharp theoretical reflection and should lead us to question some of our most deeply ingrained assumptions about the nature of modernity.
– Wouter J. Hanegraaff, University of Amsterdam, author of Western Esotericism: A Guide for the Perplexed (2013), Esotericism Esotericism and the Academy (2012), and New Age Religion and Western Culture (1996).