Michael Saler describes the pattern of historiography when dealing with the supernatural in the nineteenth century. The previous view that modernity resulted in disenchantment as spirituality was replaced by secularism and scientific thought has been replaced by more recent historiography which asserts that there was a continuing belief in the spiritual alongside scientific advancement. Looking at modernity in a binary way; that is to either see it as a period of enchantment or disenchantment is limiting our narration of the past. He presents three ideals that underlie historians’ analysis of modernity and enchantment. The binary and the dialectical approaches are based on either/or logic and were used since the nineteenth century. The antinomial approach suggests a both/and logic which has been used more recently but before one can apply this one has to define the terms modernity and enchantment looking at the binary and dialectical views.
Modernity is a mixture of political social intellectual economic technological and psychological factors which emerged in the west. This happened alongside the rise of democracy, consumerism, scientism, capitalism, nationalism and secularism. Thus historians only consistently agreed on the characteristic of disenchantment as coined by Max Weber. The binery discourse argues that enchantment is the residual other to rational thinking and so there cannot be both that and science. This detailed superstitions of religion and magic as popular culture which elites viewed as potentially dangerous. The rise of social history in the twentieth century pushed for a study of the occult and supernatural but still accepted a binary view. The dialectical discourse says modernity is irrational, inhumane and oppressive. It gets rid of individuality and autonomy thus it had to be secular and rational. Postmodern approaches view the binary discourse as ideological and not a realistic view.
The antinomial discourse sees modernity as ‘unresolved contradictions and oppositions’. In the last decause historians have realised that they have ignored cultural history and that there was not just a medieval and early modern monopoly on the supernatural but a continuation of it in the modern period. Thus this approach sees modernity as a period of both enchantment and disenchantment.
Enchantment has been defined by Paston and Park in the medieval and early modern periods as intellectual and emotional ‘wonder’. They thought that prior to the modern period elites monopolised wonders but in the modern period it was seen as vulgar and of the masses. They assume it ended with the enlightenment and only remained in popular culture but this assumes a unanimity among the elites. Later generations have seen it as cyclical between the mass and elite cultures.
The antinomial approach sees science and magic as compatible for example when looking at the belief in mesmerism in popular and intellectual thinking. Trietal argues that in Germany occultism spanned geographies and social and political compositions which represents an ambivalent modernity. It is now accepted that elites tried to make modernity a period of disenchantment but it enchantment continued many still incorporated the supernatural with scientific thought.