Location: S.S209 ARIA attic, Lange Sint-Annastraat 7, 2000 Antwerp

Time: 14h30-17h, unless communicated otherwise

Target audience: junior academic and artistic researchers

In They flew: a history of the impossible (2023), Carlos Eire makes the now-familiar argument that western modernity took flight when new, rigid boundaries were established between the natural and the supernatural. Drawing on notorious cases of Catholic mystics who levitated and bilocated, he situates this axial shift towards a ‘disenchantment of the world’ in the sixteenth century. Others locate it in the so-called age of Enlightenment, in the nineteenth century, with the advent of the natural and social sciences, or in a secularizing twentieth century. In this seminar, Kristof Smeyers will survey how historians have approached the thorny issue of disenchantment as a paradigm or foundational myth of modernity, and how they have written enchantment – including its supernatural forms – back into modern history. Next, he will ask what happens when we use the growing consensus about dis-/re-/enchantment not as a conclusion of historiography but as a point of departure to write new histories of modern enchantment. How do we historicize the boundaries between the natural and the supernatural, between the possible and the impossible? And what becomes possible when we listen to the historically unbelieved – the possessed, the medium, the mystic, the asylum patient; perhaps also the devil, the spirit, the angel, the fairy – on their own terms, as they speak to us from the margins and between the lines of the record? 

Preparatory reading:
  1. Josephson Storm and Jason Ānanda. “Max Weber and the rationalization of magic”, in Narratives of disenchantment and secularization: critiquing Max Weber’s idea of modernity, edited by Robert A. Yelle and Lorenz Trein, London: Bloomsbury, 2020, pp. 31-50. 

  2. Clossey, Luke et al. “The unbelieved and historians, part 1: a challenge”, History Compass, vol. 14 no. 12 (2016), pp. 571-602. 

  3. Clossey, Luke et al. "The Unbelieved and Historians, Part II: Proposals and solutions", History Compass, vol. 15 no. 1 (2017), pp. 1-9.

Kristof Smeyers 

is the Patria Research Fellow at KADOC-KU Leuven. He is particularly interested in histories of the supernatural, science, religion, and folklore. He has written articles on vernacular religion, gender and prophecy, mystical bodies, occult sciences, enchanted economies, and lived experiences of the supernatural. His book Supernatural bodies in modern Britain and Ireland will be published with Manchester University Press in 2024.