Ian Alexander Cuthbertson

Ian Alexander Cuthbertson


Secular Magic and the Limits of Modernity

By most accounts, modernity is disenchanted. In this view, “wonders and marvels have been demystified by science, spirituality has been supplanted by secularism… and the imagination has been subordinated to instrumental reason” (Saler, 2006). In this paper I describe how this dominant view of modernity works to conceal the continued presence of everyday enchantments and secular magic in thoroughly modern contexts. Drawing on ongoing ethnographic research in Montréal, I argue that modern enchantments remain largely invisible because academic and popular accounts of modernity deny their relevance, question their sincerity, or dismiss them as lingering superstition. Specifically, I explore how Montrealers who use magical objects in their daily lives draw upon this dominant view of modernity in attempts to explain, justify, and defend beliefs and practices that fall outside the supposed boundaries of modern rationality.

Saler, Michael. “Modernity And Enchantment: A Historiographic Review.” The American Historical Review 111, no. 3 (2006): 692-716.



I am in my fourth year of a Cultural Studies Ph.D. at Queen’s University, Kingston, where I am also a lecturer at the School of Religion. My research focuses on the ways dominant conceptions of modernity as secular and disenchanted obscure the presence of ‘magical’ objects in seemingly secular contexts. Drawing on qualitative data collected via online surveys and in-depth semi-structured interviews, my thesis explores the ways contemporary Montrealers who possess ‘magical’ objects articulate these objects’ marginal status as neither properly religious, nor properly secular.

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