The Relational Dynamics of Enchantment and Sacralization

Changing the Terms of the Religion Versus Secularity Debate

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Peik Ingman
Terhi Utriainen, Tuija Hovi, Mans Broo
  • Sheffield, England: 
    Equinox Publishing Limited
    , October
     320 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


I always enjoy reading ethnographically based volumes that relate to themes in sociology. The present volume, The Relational Dynamics of Enchantment and Sacralization: Changing the Terms of the Religion Versus Secularity Debate is one of those interdisciplinary collections that is both stimulating and accessible from multiple perspectives and levels. It draws in masterful strokes an image of a new materialism that becomes, as Kocku von Stuckrad writes in the epilogue, a “talking picture” (272). In the excellent introduction, the editors, Peik Ingman, Terhi Utriainen, Tuija Hovi, and Måns Broo, trace the production of this volume alongside ongoing discussions in sociology with thinkers such as Russell McCutcheon, Bruno Latour, and Giorgio Agamben. The introduction ultimately justifies the focus on the categories of “enchantment” and “sacralization” as being particularly helpful in “negotiating the tension between the personal/private and the public” (3). These categories find various interpretations through the three sections of the book, organized by practical implications, political concerns, and academic concerns. The conclusion of this study, in regards to new materialism, is “that the point is not that everything is agentic, but that how something is agentic emerges as an effect of entangled networks of relational dynamics” (20). These three primary themes—enchantment, sacralization, and relationality—are interlaced within each of the included essays.

Beginning the first division of essays, Anne-Christine Hornborg argues that the mode of enchantment, which effectively turns “objects into subjects,” occurs not as a result of the objects in themselves, but in relationships between certain objects and certain cultural situations. By providing compelling evidence, Hornborg claims that the enchantment of objects exists within a relationship to the world: a relationship that is delineated by ritual events within sacred spaces. It is the intersection of “ritual objects, their agency and use of materiality” that establishes the relational parameters for enchantment (35). Amy Whitehead continues this discussion, emphasizing unpredictability in occurrences of enchantment. This point is established on the “bedrock” of “modern ideas surrounding ‘representation’ and ‘agency,’” thereby building off of the relational character of enchantment, even at the conceptual level (49). The unpredictability of enchantment, which hinges on “the mixing of the sacred and profane,” exists even within the modern stance towards religion (61). The unstable conditions within which enchantment occurs are the same ones modern reasoning is attempting to tame.

Måns Broo and Christiane Königstedt provide clarity to the discussion by defining agency (following Laura Ahearn) as being both shaped by and shaping social structures (66). Space for enchantment is created by the combination of “choice and destiny ”(69). Linda Annunen and Peik Ingman explain that this type of understanding of agency allows for a more relational model of “mastery of engaging well” as a middle way between being either the master or the subject (85). It is that exchange of trust for reliance that allows this new position to become conceivable.

The second division begins with Michael Barnes Norton “recomposing religion” according to the work of Bruno Latour. Norton explains that Latour, standing opposed to modern thought, uses “compositionism as a methodological alternative to critique” (111). Beginning here allows religion to be understood as a transformative process rather than one that merely transmits information. Categories such as enchantment, therefore, are not methods of interpreting the world, but modes of existence. Religion, rather than being concerned with matters “far removed from the everyday [is] concerned with the practice of everyday life” (121). Terhi Utriainen provides an example of the practical embodiment of enchantment, and extends the challenge to the related categories of modernity, with a study of how modern Finnish women interact with angels. Utriainen argues that “our human enchant ability is anchored in our bodies” (126) and, specific to her study, that “angel enchantments create and make livable female bodies” that are “embodied subjects in dynamic relations” (137).

Nora Machado continues this logic of compositionism, analyzing the development of the shrine of Fátima in Portugal into a recognized sacred space. Machado explains that, ultimately, sacred places, ritual, and objects “can be understood as nodes of structural agency …resulting from a contextual configuration” (159-60). Peik Ingman offers a vocabulary based on pharmacology that allows “both to maintain the nonmodern ontology of actor-networks … and to recognize the effects of stance that refute such interdependence” (171). Ingman applies this vocabulary to the protection of relationships against iconoclasm, settling on the use of “invoking shared thirds” for a solution (185).

The discussion of the third division begins with aesthetics, which Jay Johnston argues focuses on “the multiple frameworks through which meaning is made” (189). Johnston’s esoteric aesthetics concludes the need to understand enchantment as “simultaneously material and relation and all that takes place” (204). Milan Fujda studies another aspect of aesthetics—dance improvisation—claiming that “studying the myriad of ways in which human beings cope with uncertainties, fragility, and complexity in their ordinary endeavors” will open new possibilities to modern dichotomies such as “secular” and “religious” (227). Fujda thus builds off Latour’s analysis of the modern process of translation and purification in a step toward addressing “the important issues of life of societies and cultures” (208). Jaana Kouri explores the complexity of everyday life in an oral history project of Finnish villages, understanding knowledge as culturally constituted within local settings. Kouri concludes that this contextualization is possible only by understanding both humans and nonhumans as influential agents. Finally, Stuart McWilliams explores the implications of the discussion of enchantment for the humanities, highlighting, as an initial premise, “that every text produced by the humanities is also an implicit manifesto” (252). McWilliams argues that the “new rationalized university does not disenchant,” but, along with Agamben, it rather takes what is profane and transforms it into a new sense of meaning (264).

Overall, this is an excellent book. It is not only approachable from several different fields, but leaves the reader with multiple perspectives from which to further investigate the enchantment of new materialism.

About the Reviewer(s): 

C. M. Howell is a graduate student in the Department of Theology at the University of Oxford.

Date of Review: 
August 7, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Peik Ingman is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Religion at Abo Akademi University, Finland.

Terhi Utriainen​ is docent and senior lecturer in the Study of Religions at the University of Helsinki.

Tuija Hovi is university lecturer in Comparative Religion at the University of Turku.

Mans Broo is university researcher in the Department of Comparative Religion at Abo Akademi University, Finland.


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