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The New Science of the Enchanted Universe : An Anthropology of Most of Humanity

The New Science of the Enchanted Universe : An Anthropology of Most of Humanity

Marshall Sahlins

Princeton University Press




23.5 x 15.5 x 2

208 pages

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From the perspective of Western modernity, humanity inhabits a disenchanted cosmos. Gods, spirits, and ancestors have left us for a transcendent beyond, no longer living in our midst and being involved in all matters of everyday life from the trivial to the dire. Yet the vast majority of cultures throughout human history treat spirits as very real persons, members of a cosmic society who interact with humans and control their fate. In most cultures, even today, people are but a small part of an enchanted universe misconstrued by the transcendent categories of “religion” and the “supernatural.” The New Science of the Enchanted Universe shows how anthropologists and other social scientists must rethink these cultures of immanence and study them by their own lights.

In this, his last, revelatory book, Marshall Sahlins announces a new method and sets an exciting agenda for the field. He takes readers around the world, from Inuit of the Arctic Circle to pastoral Dinka of East Africa, from Araweté swidden gardeners of Amazonia to Trobriand Island horticulturalists. In the process, Sahlins sheds new light on classical and contemporary ethnographies that describe these cultures of immanence and reveals how even the apparently mundane, all-too-human spheres of “economics” and “politics” emerge as people negotiate with, and ultimately usurp, the powers of the gods.

The New Science of the Enchanted Universe offers a road map for a new practice of anthropology that takes seriously the enchanted universe and its transformations from ancient Mesopotamia to contemporary America.


“This much-anticipated volume brings us Sahlins at his iconoclastic best. His voice leaps from the pages in a magnificent reprise of a scholar-warrior’s lifelong challenge to visions of humankind at large. That largesse here becomes a mode of restorative justice, exposing the anthropocentrism at the heart of so much explanation, a jolt to bring us to our senses.” — Marilyn Strathern, author of Relations: An Anthropological Account

“The New Science of the Enchanted Universe is a work of profound scholarship and remarkable theoretical daring. The crowning achievement of a long and brilliant anthropological career, this book is destined to become a classic.” — Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, author of The Relative Native: Essays on Indigenous Conceptual Worlds

“Who else but Marshall Sahlins could have retrieved from their ethnographical and historical vaults the enchanted stories of immanentism? This great voice of anthropology, still booming posthumously, not only uncovers worlds that flourish away from transcendence but also critically reveals how the social sciences have misportrayed these worlds and their plural denizens.” — Philippe Descola, author of Beyond Nature and Culture
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