The Magical Origins of Science. A Look at the Sociological Tradition

Variant title

Le origini magiche della scienza. Uno sguardo alla tradizione sociologica


Within the history of ideas, there are several theories regarding the origins of science and, more in particular, the causes of the scientific revolution at the dawn of the modern age. Enlightenment-oriented scholars argue that humans are naturally predisposed to scientific knowledge, but this predisposition finds an obstacle in religious and superstitious thought. Therefore, it is the overcoming of the Christian religion which opens the doors to the scientific revolution of the 17th century. On the other hand, some Catholic thinkers believe that the scientific revolution occurred in Christian Europe precisely because the methodological and epistemological foundations of science owe something to Judeo-Christian theological categories of thought. A third research line rejects both narratives and argues that science neither stems from anti-Christianity nor from Christianity, but rather from magic. This theory has been crafted by scholars belonging to different disciplinary areas, such as philosophy, historiography, and sociology. This article reconstructs the development of the idea of the magical origins of science within the sociological and anthropological tradition, by examining the works of James Frazer, Marcel Mauss, Emile Durkheim, and Otto Neurath. In the conclusions, the author shows how the integration of the different perspectives in a more inclusive meta-theoretical framework can shed more light on the origins of a complex phenomenon such as scientific thought.

Article history

Received 31 August 2019. Revised 30 November 2019. Accepted 29 December 2019. Published online 07 January 2020




Italian (it)


Riccardo CampaJagiellonian University in Krakow


Orbis Idearum Volume 7, Issue 2 (2019), pp. 81-115
Orbis Idearum