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Introduction to Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between

Jeremy Stolow presents the introduction to his recent book, Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between. The introduction, as well as the book itself, investigates the myriad ways that religion and technology are interwoven.

Originally published in:
(2013) Stolow, Jeremy (Ed.), Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between New York: Fordham University Press. Reproduction courtesy of Fordham University Press.


In ancient Greek tragedy it was not uncommon to resolve a particular dramatic crisis with the sudden intervention of a god, a strategy with which the playwright Euripides had a particular affinity. At the appointed moment during the play performers would utilize a trapdoor in the floor of the stage or employ a mechanê, a sort of crane with a pulley attached to it, to lower, raise, or exhibit motionless in midair a statue or an actor dressed as a deity, often the god Zeus. Such a miraculous apparition would interrupt the dramatic events taking place on stage, typically for the purpose of rescuing characters from an impending doom. [i] But this dramaturgical convention, apò mechanês theós (“the god out of the machine”), was denigrated by a long line of critics, starting with Aristotle, who lamented playwrights’ overreliance on such a cheap and “merely mechanical” resolution of dramatic tensions. [ii] In this tradition the convention of apò mechanês theós and its Latin calque, deus ex machina, came to refer to any formulaic use of a plot device in which a conveniently perfect solution emerges for an otherwise inextricable problem in the story through the insertion of an entirely unexpected character, object, or event. Underlying the critics’ longstanding disdain for the employment of deus ex machina, perhaps we might note an even deeper disdain for mechanical manipulation. Apparently, authentic divine presence, if it is to remain authentic, is not supposed to manifest itself as an instrument in the service of the human hand. Wherever we think we see gods sprouting out of our tools and machines we are merely bearing witness to the fruits of our own human labor, and only a poor poet (or a gullible spectator) would suppose otherwise. There is in fact a long history of association of the word machina with abject notions of trickery and deceit, as evident in the Latin verb machinari, “to invent, contrive, or devise,” a reference still preserved in the English noun machination: a crafty scheme designed to accomplish a sinister end. [iii] Here, perhaps, is one archaic trace preserved in the modern conception of religion as an ideological mechanism brought to bear upon superstitious populations by an impudent and cunning priesthood, as proposed by David Hume in his Natural History of Religion (1757), Ludwig Feuerbach in his Lectures on the Essence of Religion (1851), and Emile Durkheim in his Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912), to name but three figures within a crowded lineage of scholars dedicated to exposing the machine hiding behind our ghostly illusions. [iv]

The title of this book, Deus in Machina, purposefully inverts the presumed relationship between divine entities and the mechanisms that render them present. Rather than foreclosing discussion about whether and how one must choose between human-built machines and the authentic presence of gods, spirits, and other transcendent forces and things, this book seeks to revisit and revise the very supposition that religion and technology exist as two ontologically distinct arenas of experience, knowledge, and action. In common parlance, the word religion typically refers to the intangible realms of ritual expression, ethical reasoning, affect, and belief, whereas the word technology points to the material appurtenances, mechanical operations, and expert knowledge that enable humans to act upon, and in concert with, the very tangible domains of nature and society. The locution religion and technology thus operates alongside a series of analogous binaries, including faith and reason, fantasy and reality, enchantment and disenchantment, magic and science, and fabrication and fact. To talk about religion and technology, therefore, would appear to be a relatively straightforward matter of properly deploying the “and” that conjoins the two terms. Religiously derived emotions, beliefs, ethical motivations, and performative repertoires can be added to—or subtracted from—the otherwise independent operations of technologies that do their work “in the real world,” producing their effects in accordance with established laws of physics. Religious actors can embrace, avoid, reject, or repurpose technologies; they can tell stories about the sources of inspiration that led to their creation; they can develop their own vocabularies to describe how and why they work; and they can even come to regard the things they or their fellow humans built with their own hands as idols, fetishes, talismans, or transubstantiations of ordinary matter into sacred matter. But technology refers to an order of things existing outside of and independent from all such dispositions, uses, and frameworks of meaning, and there is not supposed to be anything allegorical about the work technologies perform or the things they can or cannot do.

However, as Bruno Latour reminds us, it is not so easy, nor is it so desirable, to distinguish between reality and its construction. Facts about the natural world have always only come to us through the work of fabrication: through controlled modes of experimentation and observation and through the social allocation of credibility and expertise. And yet, once constructed, these facts manage to erase their own origins in order to present themselves, quite magically, as things that have been merely discovered, not made. For Latour it is this process of construction and denial of constructedness that brings the “real” world of technoscience into curiously close alignment with the “illusory” universe of idol-worship, fetishism, and other acts of bearing witness to transcendent powers of miracle, magic, and fate. One of the aims of this book is to take seriously Latour’s attempt to shake us free from the ingrained wisdom that presumes there is a clear and unproblematic divide between reality and construction—or, as Latour provocatively suggests, between fact and fetish—in order to immerse ourselves in a labile, category-confusing universe of “autonomous creations,” including such things as “lactic acid ferments, divinities, black holes, tangled genes, apparitions of the Virgin, and so on. What do we have to lose? What are we afraid of?” [v] In a similar vein this book asks: Is it still useful—is it still even possible—to imagine that religion and technology can be parceled out as two discrete dimensions of the cosmos? What is at stake in the provocation of this book’s title to locate “god in the machine?” Who has the authority to weigh those stakes? What might be gained or lost once religious and technological things are allowed to mingle promiscuously with one another?

The chapters that follow suggest various answers to such questions. They do so by experimenting with different vocabularies, analytical approaches, and exemplary stories in order to revisit long-cherished assumptions about the overlaps and the differences among humans, techniques, tools, machines, spirits, gods, and other natural and supernatural entities and forces. The ensuing conversation (a term I choose intentionally to signal that readers should not expect to find a seamless unity of opinion among the contributors to this volume) brings together scholars from several disciplinary locations, including those of the anthropology and history of religion, media history, and media archaeology. This interdisciplinary dialogue was first staged at a conference on religion and technology held in Hamilton, Canada, in 2007 (although some of the contributors to this book joined the conversation later on), the aim of which was to take stock of the appearance in different disciplines of strikingly comparable research questions and thematic concerns with regard to the technologization of religion and the religiosity of technology, even if these overlaps have not always been properly acknowledged.

In particular Deus in Machina is premised on two scholarly discussions that have blazed significant trails for thinking in new ways about religion and technology. The first one comprises what has recently been dubbed the “media turn” in the study of religion. [vi] Over the past decade or so, a remarkable body of historical and ethnographic work has pushed the study of religion beyond its customary modes of engagement with sacred texts, rituals, structures of belief, abstract principles of ethical conduct, and institutional definitions of identity and belonging. [vii] This literature has called new attention to the many ways religious practice and imagination are inextricably bound up with the materialities of media and the labor of mediation—not just textual or iconographic systems of representation, but also a much broader terrain of sensorial techniques, tools, material artifacts, and systems of coordinated action. Some scholars have focused on the proliferation of technological platforms, institutional arrangements, and representational strategies gathered under the term new media, exploring how the functional logics of digital and mobile media bear elective affinities with the expanding public presence of transnational religious movements or, more broadly, with the restructuring of practices, discourses, patterns of adherence, and systems of exchange that has been visited upon religious communities in virtually every region of the world today, even (perhaps especially) at the frontiers of so-called secular society. Others have been busy reexamining and reassessing older modes of religious mediation, such as music, book publishing, sacred architecture, and markets for the circulation of magical goods and services, in each case attending to the ways both private and public arenas of religious power and experience have been shaped—historically and in the present—by technologies that reorganize social time and space or offer new means of storing, retrieving, and distributing knowledge. What unites all this work is a common commitment to (at least some version of) the claim that media provide the deep conditions of possibility for religious adherents to proclaim their faith, mark their affiliation, receive spiritual gifts, or participate in any of the countless local idioms for making the sacred present to mind and body. [viii] Technology—in the enlarged sense of materials, techniques, instruments, and expertise—forms the gridwork of orientations, operations, and embedded and embodied knowledges and powers without which religious ideas, experiences, and actions could not exist, even if such mediations are denigrated or repressed in the name of transcendent immediacy (or an unmediated transcendent). [ix]

At the very same time that anthropologists and historians of religion have been busy assessing the technological materialities of religious experience and expression, a parallel discussion has been unfolding among students of science, technology, and media aimed at revising received assumptions about the construction and functioning of modern technologies and their interface with human experience. In particular, historians as well as observers of the contemporary period have distanced themselves from the venerable “conflict thesis” of religion and science in order to attend more closely to the modes of wonder-making that shape public science and the systems of faith that undergird technoscientific knowledge and practice: not just the science and technology produced in laboratories, but also those produced at conferences and in schools, at factories and in offices, at public demonstrations and in museums, among other scenes for the construction, popularization, and domestic consumption of technoscientific instruments, practices, and bodies of knowledge. [x]

Having dismissed innocent accounts of technology as the instrument of human intention and the handmaiden of social progress, a growing chorus of scholars has placed a new premium on technology’s sacral and/or magical dimensions. Because of their imponderable complexities, their autonomous, networked agency, and their capacities to compress time, erase distance, and reproduce sameness, modern technologies have thus come to be understood as possessing transcendent or uncanny features, the encounter with which is phenomenologically comparable with the performative techniques of prayer, ritual action, or magic, or with the “religious” experiences of ecstasy and awe—as famously argued by Jacques Derrida in his account of what he describes as the return of a repressed, “primitive” animism within modern tele-technoscience. [xi] From the pixilated color screens that dazzle our eyes to the surveillance systems that track every moment of daily life to industrial megaprojects that threaten the planetary ecosystem, the advancement and diffusion of new technologies increasingly seem to play on longstanding religious themes of (in)finitude, salvation, and fate. In the rapidly evolving domains of robotics, bioengineering, and digitally mediated communications, observers have documented a steady erosion of once-confident distinctions between humans and other bodies as the authority of Linnaean taxonomy appears to be giving way to a new cosmology of virtual projections, “cybergnostic” modes of dispersed intelligence, and the generation of all manner of half-human, half-machine hybrid “monsters.” [xii] More broadly still, one might say that myths, monsters, ghosts, angels, karmic forces, and enchanted objects seem everywhere to be on the rise: in the generation of visual phantasmagoria and cinematic illusions (and other mediated spectacles based on the logic of “special effects”); in the transnational circulation of Pokémon video games and trading cards; or in the vertiginous experience of the Internet as global society’s collective “digital sublime”; among other instances where (as Peter Pels words it, in his contribution to this volume) “religious” modes of knowledge, practice, and experience are making their appearance in “nonreligious” contexts. [xiii]

Deus in Machina builds upon these discussions, seeking to bridge hitherto disconnected disciplinary perspectives on religion, technology, and the things in between. It does so by pursuing paths of inquiry that rub against the grain of common wisdom and that challenge the established scholarly consensus about where and how to divide religion and technology from one another. Having invoked the figure of “established scholarship,” I ought to add a few words about the general shape of the existing literature. Of course it would be a daunting, if not tedious, task to enumerate and describe all the works that have some bearing on the topic of religion and technology. [xiv] One would have to consider not only the more recent discussions I have just enumerated, but also a much larger and older body of scholarship. Indeed, since at least the late nineteenth century, there has been a steady outpouring of books, conference proceedings, newspaper editorials, and special issues of journals penned by social scientists, theologians, philosophers, medical ethicists, engineers, ecologists, and others concerned with the ethical assessment of particular technological procedures or, more generally, with the conditions of social life, both historically and in our present “technological age.” One strand of scholarship focuses on the contributions made by ancient and medieval theologians, monastic orders, magi, and other “religious folk” in the development of numerous technical arts, including medicine, pharmacology, architecture, astronomy, navigation, timekeeping, lenscrafting, and metal casting. [xv] David Noble’s widely read account of the origins of modern Western conceptions of technological mastery and popular forms of faith in technological progress highlights the eschatological context of medieval European Christianity and the role played by theological categories of redemption, the millennium, and Armageddon. [xvi] Other studies hone in on the Renaissance and early modern Europe in order to trace the contributions of mystical vision, natural magic, millenarian motivations, and ecclesiastical allegiances to the generation of modern scientific credibility. [xvii] Another body of literature documents the religious biographies of natural philosophers, doctors, inventors, and engineers—Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, the Muslim scientific polymath; Robert Boyle, the Puritan; Isaac Newton, the alchemist; and John Wesley, the Methodist electrotherapist—alongside history’s countless autodidacts, self-styled inventors, witches, medicine men, and other non-elites whose technological engagements have been lost under the general sign magic. [xviii] Yet another body of work explores the ambiguously magical status of instruments within histories of scientific experiment and natural philosophy and their relationship with an expanding public culture of scientific exhibition and display. [xix] Even further afield, the study of religion and technology has also been shaped by contributions of numerous engineers and scientists, from Norbert Wiener’s colorful attempt (in 1964) to apply a version of the Turing Test to demonstrate the affinity between God and computers to Dean Hamer’s more recent summary of ongoing neuroscientific efforts to locate “the god gene” or the “religion” function within the human brain. [xx]
Deus in Machina thus finds itself at the crossroads of a dizzying number of pathways for the study of religion and technology. What can yet another book hope to accomplish? The contributors to this volume proceed on the assumption that critical engagement with religion and technology remains an incomplete task and that there is in fact plenty of room for further documentation, comparison, and, above all, reflection. As individual chapters and also as parts of a collective enterprise, the studies undertaken here intervene into the existing literature on several fronts. In the remainder of this introduction, I shall attempt to highlight what I take to be this book’s key contributions.

Beyond Instrumentalism

The first contribution of Deus in Machina is its attempt to revisit and reconsider the dominant instrumentalist conceptions of technology that issue directly from ongoing efforts to keep religion and technology separate from one another. At the risk of caricaturing the literature referenced earlier, and despite its enormous variances in historical and cultural context, let us take note of a strikingly recurring analytical strategy. One begins by trying to identify the practices and beliefs of particular historical actors, who for their part are distinguished by their religious commitments, affinities, and habits, and then traces the decisions of these actors to use, refuse, or repurpose particular technologies in the service of religious goals such as spiritual purification, missionary conquest, salvation, and the expiation of sin. Sometimes this is an exercise of addition: religious actor plus technology equals religious outcome. The careers of British and American tract, Bible, and missionary societies provide a familiar illustration of this formula. Nineteenth-century Protestant intellectuals and activists are widely reported to have been enthusiastic champions of emerging technologies of communication and transportation (such as stereotypography, steam-powered transit, and electromagnetic telegraphy) and new methods of technical coordination of information (such as statistics and bookkeeping). These were greeted as signs of Providence and as tools perfectly designed to service of their mission to “spread good news” among mass populations on an unprecedented global scale. [xxi] At other times the exercise is one of subtraction: religious actor minus technology equals religious outcome. This formula structures many narratives about religious acts of resistance, censorship, or refusal in the face of technological change, whereby new instruments and practices are treated as threats to established hierocratic authority, as spiritual pollutants, or as violations of sacred law. In some of the more dramatic cases, new technologies herald the presence of the devil—an association emblematically conveyed in the declaration made by Pope Gregory XVI on the occasion of his decision (in 1836) to prohibit the construction of railways in the Papal States: chemin de fer, chemin d’enfer [the “iron road” is the road to hell]. [xxii]

However, as each of the chapters of Deus in Machina shows, the calculus of addition and subtraction does not get us very far when it comes to trying to understand the exact role played by particular instruments and technical procedures for religious actors and within religious contexts of action. In the first instance technologies rarely (if ever) can be fully enclosed within the conceptual horizons and the operational intentions of their makers. Nor is it tenable to explain resistances to technology with recourse to some variant of the proposition that, because “lay people” tend to possess a limited understanding of the underlying principles and operational characteristics of technologies, their relationships are based on hearsay, superstition, or cognitive dissonance. What, then, helps instrumentalism retain its commonsense status?

Hiding behind what I am here calling “instrumentalist” treatments of technology, it is perhaps possible to detect the half-buried presence of magic. Magic is the family of tools, techniques, and understandings of the world that, according to a long tradition of scholarship, is supposedly located within the province of “the primitive mind”: as a parapractical mode of action and a prerational effort to explain causal forces in the universe. Magic is the ancestor (or illegitimate cousin) of what we moderns call technology. In the larger historical scheme of things, magic is something that was (or ought to have been) superseded by a more sober reliance upon techniques and instruments that “actually do their jobs” and by the advancement of scientific reasoning that “properly” frames knowledge about such work. The divide between religion and technology thus appears to be rooted in claims that are at once historical and epistemological, and to those extents the very divide is an outcome of a process Bruno Latour famously called “purification.” [xxiii] Magic—the third term that floats promiscuously in between the orders of knowledge and faith, action and fantasy, or the tangible and the merely ponderable—is that which must be systematically excluded for the sake of the integrity of religion, on the one hand, and technoscience, on the other. [xxiv] In other words, it was precisely through the disavowal and repression of magic that both modern sciences and modern religions were born: religions and sciences that “know their place” by remaining safely segregated from each other’s performative and epistemological prerogatives. This operation is necessary in order to lay the groundwork for further elaborations of technology as a “disenchanted” realm of tools, devices, techniques, and expert knowledges governed by its own internal logic: a realm that religious actors can only ever approach from the outside. And yet magic, the excluded middle, has never simply disappeared. As emphasized by a growing body of scholars (many of whom have already been cited), modernity is pervasively haunted by its very effort to disenchant the world. [xxv]

In the pages that follow, the reader will encounter a variety of instruments and technical processes—calendars, clocks, and towers (Peters), oscillating clocks (Ernst), feedback mechanisms (Modern), miraculous “touch machines” (de Witte), magnetized cables (Stolow), and kidney dialysis treatments (Hamdy), to name a few—the discussion of which greatly troubles instrumentalist presumptions about technological efficacy and about the chasm that supposedly divides scientific understanding from “religious” or “magical” modes of apprehending and working in the world. Some of the contributors to Deus in Machina explicitly align the objects of their study with magic in order to provoke a reconsideration of the terms on which technology is supposed to be divided from the supernatural, while others seek alternative means of calling instrumentalist presumptions into question. One theme running through several chapters has to do with the struggles among religious (and nonreligious) actors to recognize, authorize, and authenticate instances of technological efficacy. In his history of Buddhist therapeutic practices in Japan, Jason Josephson traces efforts to repress older conceptions of kaji (empowerment) through the systematic disempowerment of ritual healers and the domestication of Buddhist prayer as something merely supplementary (if not antithetical) to modern medical technique. Marleen de Witte explores how “miracle-working” Pentecostal pastors in contemporary Ghana produce extraordinary experiences of “God’s touch” at the very same time that a broader public anxiety about the possibility of fraudulence and charlatanism has been reshaping the terms on which techniques for mediating the invisible realm of the Holy Spirit can be authenticated. Authenticity also emerges as a key theme in Alexandra Boutros’s chapter, which documents the fraught terms on which Haitian Vodou is repackaged in the context of “cyberspace,” a realm where diverse knowledge seekers and service providers encounter one another and where reliable access to “traditional” Vodou rituals and practices is routinely called into question by fiercely competing authority figures. In my own chapter on a nineteenth-century technology designed for spirit communication, I attend to the broader arena of popular science within which advocates as well as detractors of Spiritualism compete for the authority to define and operate instruments that purport to register the presence of “invisible” forces, variously described as electricity, nervous energy, sympathy, and spirit. Through these and other cases, Deus in Machina offers a far-reaching survey of things that are understood to serve as instruments of religious knowledge, power, imagination, and experience. In so doing, this book illuminates paths of inquiry that circumvent the instrumentalist cul-de-sac, allowing us to return with fresh eyes to the very question of what is a religious instrument.

Revisiting Technology

Whereas instrumentalist accounts of religion and technology focus on the agency, motives, and strategic calculations of religious actors, other discussions turn on broader questions about the cosmological, ethical, and theological dimensions of technology itself: as a force of history-making and as a mode of being-in-the-world. One longstanding liberal tradition invokes technological change, and the rise of modern technology in particular, as the guarantor of convenience and abundance and of physiological and civic improvement, as voiced by a long line of techno-gurus from Thomas Edison to Bill Gates. When listening to such champions of technological progress, it is not difficult to hear echoes of the rhetoric and poetics of religious prophecy and the visualization of a salvific future free from toil, disease, isolation, forgetfulness, and other bodily catastrophes. Of course, that optimism is frequently countered by much darker assessments of our technological present and future: assessments that are no less indulgent in the language of cosmogony and prophecy, as epitomized by the work of Martin Heidegger, Jacques Ellul, Paul Tillich, and others who share an understanding of technology as a deep, systemic, and insidious mode of apprehending and dealing with the world. [xxvi] In that tradition technology is positioned within a theology of creation and action that privileges the principle of efficiency over all other normative criteria, compelling us to regard the natural world as a legitimate object of mastery and control or, in Heidegger’s terms, to reduce the world we encounter to Gestell (“standing reserve”). Heidegger’s account of modern technological being-in-the-world has inspired successive generations of scholars to explore the internal logic that governs technology’s steady colonization of our lived experience. As modern technologies develop, it is often noted, they incorporate larger and more complicated functions, their operational properties become increasingly difficult to discern, and they become increasingly unpredictable and unstable, having long freed themselves from the willful intentions of their original designers and users. Their apparent autonomy and self-determining functionality thus make modern technologies appear inexorable, sublime—even imperious. As Heidegger himself put it in a posthumously published interview, today we appear to have become so thoroughly subjugated to the imperatives of technological thinking that “only a God can save us.” [xxvii]

Heidegger was neither the first nor the last to comment on the growing discrepancy between “technical” and “cultural” systems of action and knowledge production, and the legacy of his meditations on technology are difficult to assess, not least because they have so readily been caricatured as a naïve form of technophobia. [xxviii] At the risk of further perpetuating that caricature, I want to focus on one specific dimension of Heidegger’s argument that seems most pertinent to the study of religion and technology and that helps to highlight the contributions offered by this book. My concern lies with the association of technology with the “merely machinic”—as opposed to the “poetic”—realm of thought and experience, which Heidegger and others seek to recuperate as that which make humans “authentically” human. In everyday language the word technical refers to a realm of dispassionate, disinterested, even “spiritless” activities. Technical operations are not supposed to “mean” anything; they just do their work (it is we humans who add the “poetic” meanings). In this sense technicality marks the zero-degree point of religious presence; neither positive nor negative, technical actions are thus understood to constitute the “dead letter” of the word or the “bare bones” of ritual performance. The spread of a technical mentality—governed by the cold laws of prosaics rather than the lyric laws of poetry—can thereby serve as the sign of a steady retreat from human authenticity, and by that token presumably as a retreat from authentic religiosity, as well. This argument borrows not only from (a version of) Heidegger’s critique of technology, but also from Max Weber’s account of the role of formal procedural rationality (Zweckrationalität) within a larger historical drive toward a world in which, as Weber put it, “one can, in principle, master all things by calculation. This means that the world is disenchanted. One need no longer have recourse to magical means in order to master or implore the spirits, as did the savage, for whom such mysterious powers existed. Technical means and calculations perform the service.” [xxix] Weber’s decision to counterpoise “magic” and “the technical” is part and parcel of a much broader effort to explain the force and direction of Western secularization or the supposed loss of aura in the mechanical age (as some readers of Benjamin would have it), and it has even made its appearance in interpretations of religious fundamentalism, which is often castigated for its “spiritless” textual literalism and its emphasis on the “machine-like” precision of ritual practice. [xxx]

Technology thus plays a leading role in some of the most prevalent accounts of modernity as the outcome of the disenchantment of nature and society: a historical process that has turned the world into an inert cosmos, subject to human powers of detached observation and calculated manipulation. But where does this conception of the “technical” (as opposed to the “magical”) character of technology come from? As Heidegger himself was at pains to point out, modern technical rationality is rooted in a long history. In classical Greek philosophy, techne—a term that originally meant “to put together, to weave, or to connect things through art, artifice or craft”—was generally understood to furnish an inferior form of knowledge about the cosmos when compared to episteme, the systematic mode of contemplation that furnished universal and timeless truths. [xxxi] It is only in the modern period that one begins to see an erosion of the classical division between the base “mechanical arts” and the lofty contemplative powers of natural philosophy. And it was only in the nineteenth century that people began referring to technology in the singular, an abstraction that was furthered over the course of the twentieth century with the rise of large-scale, increasingly bureaucratized networks of scientists, engineers, planners, and managers working in trade, industry, and government. [xxxii]

A key development in the history of this shifting semantic terrain arguably begins with the collusion between post-Reformation Christianity and early modern natural philosophy, a marriage that had global consequences once interlaced with the history of European colonial conquest and the expansion of Western military and economic supremacy. The rise of modern science in the West has indeed often been interpreted as a radical break with medieval cosmologies and so-called primitive modes of magical thinking, a break coincident with the development of post-Reformation Christian accounts of the universe that were equally insistent on the need to separate knowledge of the natural world from higher forms of contemplation. One exemplary contribution to this effort was provided by Calvinist theology, which denied the intermediate power of bishops, kings, saints, angels, and even the Virgin Mary, and in so doing radically distanced both human subjects and the natural order from their absolute, unknowable, sovereign creator. For their part, figures such as Galileo, Descartes, Bacon, and Newton are said to have inaugurated modern science by having overturned once and forever the existing Thomist, neo-Platonic, and magical understandings of nature as a vast web of resemblances, sympathetic rapports, or final causes. As a new breed of “secular theologians,” the fathers of modern science thus transformed nature into mere matter: a uniform entity, extended in space—and therefore amenable to precise measurement and controlled observation—and organized by universal principles of mechanical cause and effect, action and reaction. [xxxiii]

As a legatee of this process of desacralizing nature, the modern definition of technology thus posits a fundamental divide between human and nonhuman agents. This divide is precisely what makes technology potentially threatening for authentic human experience, including the modes of ethical living that are said to shape religious ways of being-in-the-world. But were technology and culture ever so neatly detached from one another? Is it really possible to recuperate forms of human existence “before” technology? Is the tradition of critique of technology’s “inauthenticity” implicated in a deeper (unacknowledged?) set of assumptions about what it means to be human: assumptions that inform definitions of religion as a realm of experience, meaning, and authentic expression detached from and opposed to the instrumentality of technical things?

Over the course of the past half century a growing scholarly literature has called into question the ways humanity and technology are typically imagined to be distinct from one another precisely in order to find themselves in relationships of cooperation or conflict. For the paleoanthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan, technology was from the very beginning a partner in the evolution of humanity itself, forming a “curtain of objects” or an “artificial envelope” that mediates between the interior milieu of human subjectivity and the exterior milieu of geography, climate, flora, and fauna. The collaboration of humans and other living beings (prey, seeds, domestic animals), as well as nonliving matter (tools, shelter, clothing) form the very basis of life, action, and subjectivity stretching back to the darkest origins of the human species. Even the evolutionary transition to bipedality was implicated in a technogenetic process that freed hands for the activity of grasping objects and positioned the face for the development of complex techniques of gesture and speech. In this sense the emergence of the human species was inescapably tied to the history of technological invention and intervention in the form of memories and schemata of action exuded from human minds and bodies and inscribed onto tools: the hammer that multiplies our strength; the arrow that overcomes our slow-moving legs and weak teeth and nails; and the diagrams, tokens, and tallies (and later, more complex forms of numerical notation and writing) that store and retrieve information more effectively than our limited memories. [xxxiv]

Leroi-Gourhan’s approach represents one eddy within a broader intellectual current addressing the relationship between technology and the human on terms that seek a way out of the conditions of war that supposedly rages between them. Drawing directly on Leroi-Gourhan (among other sources), Bernard Stiegler has coined the term epiphylogenesis to refer to the notion that humanity and technology have always been constitutive of one another in the form of Promethean “gifts” to compensate for what Stiegler calls “the fault of Epimetheus,” referring to the Greek titan who, when charged to equip animals with the traits they needed for survival, overlooked humans and left them helpless. [xxxv] Stiegler’s orientation to technology merits comparison with other efforts to dissolve the distinction between human and nonhuman forms of agency, as in the case of actor-network theory, which also seeks to redistribute the epistemic privileges monopolized by human agents and to reevaluate the assumption that nonhuman agencies are mere supplements (or impediments) to human will. [xxxvi] The effort to displace the centrality of the human subject also forms a central plank of recent media theory, not least in the field of media archaeology, which has sought to challenge the hegemony of language-based models to describe technological operations and the human-machine interface, in order to rethink the relationship between technological operations and (human) conditions of perception and experience. [xxxvii]

In different ways each of these veins of critical thought has been concerned to transcend the distinction between (authentic) humans and (inauthentic) instruments and machines as presumed by (at least a version of) Heidegger and other critics of the technicity of technology. These divisions are breached in the name of a new appreciation of “the nonhuman,” a category that not only includes such things as hydroelectric power plants, jet engines, staircases, ink, flowers, hair, animal blood, DVDs, and mobile telephones, but that also encompasses gods, angels, jinns, demons, bodhisattvas, saints, ethical principles, statements of fact, and many other “transcendent” creatures. These diverse entities define the horizons of human action at the same time that we humans define both ourselves and our “others.” Taking the title of this book seriously thus requires that we place all the aforementioned creatures within a shared framework of traffic between and among humans and other actors and that we abandon ourselves, without predisposition, to the human/nonhuman hybrids that are generated in that traffic.

As part of a project to rethink the terms on which religion and technology can be related to one another, Deus in Machina thus casts its net widely in order to allow for the discovery of hybrids in both expected and unexpected places. In his chapter John Durham Peters introduces the category of “logistical media” in order to track how orientations to space and time (embodied in the technological forms of calendars, clocks, and towers) inform and enable religious meaning-making and religious practice, even if they are often imagined today as having been emancipated from this religious legacy as “merely secular” devices. Wolfgang Ernst also digs into the mechanics of timekeeping, but arrives at quite different conclusions from those of Peters. Whereas Peters is concerned with the traces of ancient religious purposes embedded in the history of timekeeping technologies—traces that continue to have an effect in the present—for Ernst what is paramount to consider is the dis-continuity between the history of religious timekeeping and the evolution of time-based media technologies. In other words, for Ernst, the challenge facing the study of religion and technology is not to bring them closer together, but to rethink the terms on which they must remain separate, an argument he pursues through his account of the history of the oscillating clock and its progressive detachment from its original locus in the monasteries of medieval Christian Europe. Questions about space, time, and technology also emerge in several other chapters—such as in de Abreu’s meditation on Charismatic Catholic efforts to replenish modern technological “airspace,” or in my own account of nineteenth-century Spiritualist conceptions of the cosmos as a vast “nervo-astronomy” of sympathetic linkages—but they also shape discussion of seemingly nonreligious modes of imagination and cultural practice, as Peter Pels demonstrates in his account of the development of the literary genre of science fiction over the course of the twentieth century and its various translations into science-fictionalized everyday life. Indeed, as Pels argues, images of spaceships and narratives about telepathic powers or time-traveling machines not only recuperate older religious discourses about space, time, and the transcendent, they also epitomize the ways religions are reinvented in order to fit the “secular” experiences of modern people.

Several chapters in this book offer new ways to think about religious subjectivity and community that also call into question settled assumptions about what divides human experience from techno-logic. In his chapter John Lardas Modern explores how the notion of “feedback loops” informs the tense relationship between American Protestant visions of a “purified” religious community and the haunting powers of technological modernity: tensions that productively informed diverse strands of the Melville revival of the 1920s, at a time of wrenching technological change. Maria José de Abreu offers a rereading of Walter Benjamin’s famous theory of aura, now centered on the figure of the breathing body, which (for Catholic Charismatics in contemporary Brazil, among other actors who populate her narrative) invites a new conceptualization of the distinction between subject and object, or body and machine, through a reconsideration of the airspace that lies between and pervades them both. Sherine Hamdy challenges received notions of technological fatalism in the context of Muslims seeking (or avoiding) medical intervention in present-day Egypt, arguing that monolithic definitions of “fate” obscure the more nuanced strategies adopted by religious actors to make decisions about the risks, costs, and likely benefits associated with unpredictable (and for many, prohibitively expensive) medical procedures. In her chapter Faye Ginsburg also rubs against the grain of dominant notions of technological fate by exploring the work of disability activists, documentary filmmakers, and others concerned to overcome the marginalization of disabled persons within transnational Ashkenazi Jewish communities. As Ginsburg shows, the technoscientific data gathered under the sign of disability is never stable. It is always open to reappropriation and resignification for the sake of memorialization, restorative justice, political mobilization, and, in the specific case of Jewish disability, for the sake of new alignments of creed, kinship, bio-power, and belonging in the formation of Jewish religious community—as poignantly documented in Ginsburg’s account of the efforts of disabled persons to construct new forms of “mediated kinship” and to imagine in a new register their own bodies as reflections of God’s image. In these diverse studies the contributors to Deus in Machina make serious efforts to reevaluate the theological, cosmological, and ethical terms on which technology has been imagined as religion’s “other” and to call attention to the multiple hybrids that begin to proliferate once that division has been superseded.

The Problem of Comparative Religions

If the discussion thus far has managed to cast doubt on the use of the word “technology,” it is hardly the case that the word “religion” somehow deserves to escape from comparable scrutiny. In this respect a few words are also needed to clarify some of the ambitions, as well as the limits, of a study of religion and technology that adopts a comparative, historical, and cross-cultural perspective. The combination of chapters in this book does imply a purposeful eclecticism in which the reader is invited to traverse a wide range of time scales and geographic, cultural, and religious contexts, including engagements with: a site of Charismatic Catholic media production in Brazil (de Abreu); the public careers of Pentecostal pastors in Ghana (de Witte); the writings of a mid-nineteenth-century American Spiritualist (Stolow); the history of American Protestant readings of Herman Melville’s epic novel Moby-Dick in the early twentieth century (Modern); local enactments of Islamic debates over organ transplantation in an Egyptian hospital (Hamdy); a history of the shifting doctrinal and legal discourses that defined the legitimacy and efficacy of Buddhist ritual healing practices in nineteenth-century Japan (Josephson); a transnationally dispersed community of Ashkenazi Jewish filmmakers and disability activists (Ginsburg); and the “virtual Vodou” cybercommunity (Boutros).

This is hardly an exhaustive list of religious frameworks for conceiving, engaging with, and assessing the ethical implications of technologies, both old and new. Readers can no doubt think of equally (if not more) compelling cases to consider within and across other religious traditions, including, for instance, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Hinduism, Theravada Buddhism, Mormonism, and the innumerably diverse cosmologies and ritual practices of Fourth World peoples, none of which receives adequate attention in the following pages. But while the range of case studies explored here might seem limited, if not arbitrary, the decision to juxtapose them within a single book serves a larger purpose: to try to displace those reigning narratives of religion and technology that fail to reflect on their own parochial status as predominantly Christian and Western, or that are myopically focused on contemporary technoculture at the expense of a longer historical view. Prevailing accounts of scientific inquiry and technological invention have in fact been heavily biased toward the Euro-American context, and to that extent they are predicated on what should be acknowledged as parochial histories of economic patronage, ecclesiastical authority, public spectacle, and imperial imagination. It is regrettably commonplace, however, that commentators on religion and technology readily confuse particular narratives about the historical emergence of modern European and American science, biomedicine, industrial production, and military supremacy with a transcultural, normative account of technological change and modern fate. This slippage between the particular and the universal is especially clear in the way studies purporting to talk in general terms about “religion and technology” silently assume a model of post-Reformation Christianity: as a theological template; as a structure of belief; and as a mode of conduct distinct from the public domains of law and politics or, for that matter, of science, industry, and the capitalist market.

Of course, comparisons are always dangerous undertakings in that they encourage scholars either openly or unconsciously to reify the very terms on which discrete phenomena can be brought into alignment with one another. This problem has been commented upon with particular force in the field of religious studies, where it has been declared a nominalist error to presuppose the existence of a universally distributed, yet locally differentiated body of precepts, doctrines, affective dispositions, and modes of social affinity that all can be captured in the singular word “religion.” As argued by Talal Asad, David Chidester, Tomoko Masuzawa, and Guy Stroumsa, among others, the very idea of religion as a transcultural category is rooted in a specifically Christian theological distinction between, on the one hand, the internal, timeless, private experience of faith and belief and, on the other hand, the external, temporal, public domains of politics, science, social habit, and cultural expression. [xxxviii] Hence the risk that every attempt to extend the scholarly gaze beyond the bounds of Western modernity carries with it a silent colonizing impulse to force different traditions of ethical and practical conduct and different modes of knowing the cosmos onto the Procrustean bed of post-Reformation Christianity.

The assumed normativity—if not universality—of the Western Christian experience (if indeed such a monolithic entity has ever existed) thus represents a significant barrier for the integration of studies dealing with the conceptualization, reception, and use of technologies in non-Western and non-Christian religious contexts. Simply put, different religious regimes impose distinct constraints on the range of possible engagements with the pragmata of tools, devices, and machines, while at the same time through such appropriations enable quite different modes of embodied perception, action, and imagination. On the other hand, there is an equally great risk that a comparative study of religions and technologies scattered across different historical periods and regions of the world might proceed in a way that is innocent of the political and economic hegemony of the advanced Western industrial states in matters of technological development and in the global diffusion of modern technologies. In this respect, perhaps there still exist good reasons to relate questions of technology and modernity to specifically Christian powers of imagination and practice as proposed, for instance, by Jacques Derrida in his account of mondialatinisation [globalatinization]. [xxxix] The challenge facing any interdisciplinary comparative discussion of religion and technology is therefore this: How can one represent the legacy of Western Christian domination while at the same time provide room to explore the many ways the terms “religion” and “technology” might be applied to culturally varying, sometimes even incommensurable practices, techniques, symbolic repertoires, and sources of ethical judgment?

This is a challenge that Deus in Machina cannot possibly meet if both the words “religion” and “technology” are not first shorn of their nominalist trappings. Perhaps, therefore, the only safe way to make use of these terms is to place them in the category that rhetoricians call “catachresis.” A catachresis is a figure of speech that denotes a thing that otherwise cannot be named, because there is no proper referent, as in the popular example “the legs of a table.” [xxxx] By emptying out the words “religion” and “technology,” and thereby drawing attention to the underlying disjuncture between these words and their (absent) referents, might not this serve to make new room for the many hybrids that lie beneath this semantic divide, each awaiting its own opportunity to be made visible as a god in the machine?

Notes and References

  • [i]. See Donald J. Mastronarde, “Actors on High: The Skene Roof, the Crane, and the Gods in Attic Drama,” Classical Antiquity 9, no. 2 (October 1990): 247–94; Rush Rehm, Tragic Greek Theatre (New York and London: Routledge, 1994), 69–71.
  • [ii]. See, for instance, Aristotle, Poetics 1454a–b.
  • [iii]. Whereas in ancient Greek the term m<mac>echanê still reverberated with the connotations of its root word, mekhos (literally a “means” or an “expedient,” etymologically connected to the proto-Indo-European word magh-, “to be able,” whence also comes the term “magic”), by Roman times the word machina already had expanded its semantic terrain to include “device,” “frame,” “contrivance,” and “trick.”
  • [iv]. David Hume, Dialogues and Natural History of Religion, ed. J. C. A. Gaskin (1757–1779; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993); Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, trans. Ralph Manheim (1851; New York: Harper and Row, 1967); Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans. Karen E. Fields (1912; New York: Free Press, 1995).
  • [v]. Bruno Latour, On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010), 43; see also Latour, “What Is Iconoclash? Or Is There a World Beyond the Image Wars?” in Iconoclash: Beyond the Image Wars in Science, Religion, and Art, ed. Latour and Peter Weibel (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002), 14–37; Latour, Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), 266–92.
  • [vi]. Matthew Engelke, “Religion and the Media Turn: A Review Essay,” American Ethnologist 37, no. 2 (2010): 371–79.
  • [vii]. A landmark text in the generation of this “media turn” in the study of religion is Hent de Vries and Samuel Weber, eds., Religion and Media (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001). For overviews of religion and media as a field of research, see David Morgan, ed., Key Words in Religion, Media and Culture (New York: Routledge, 2008); and Jeremy Stolow, “Religion and/as Media,” Theory, Culture & Society 22, no. 2 (2005): 119–45; see also the many contributions to the journal Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief, which began publishing in 2005.
  • [viii]. As Hent de Vries argues in his agenda-setting introduction to the volume Religion and Media, “We should no longer reflect exclusively on the meaning, historically and in the present, of religion—of faith and belief and their supposed opposites such as knowledge and technology—but concentrate on the significance of the processes of mediation and mediatization without and outside of which no religion would be able to manifest or reveal itself in the first place”; de Vries, “In Media Res: Global Religion, Public Spheres, and the Task of Contemporary Comparative Religious Studies,” in Religion and Media, ed. de Vries and Weber, 28.
  • [ix]. On the (mediated) production of immediacy, see Rosalind Morris, “Modernity’s Media and the End of Mediumship? On the Aesthetic Economy of Transparency in Thailand,” Public Culture 12, no. 2 (2000): 457–75; Birgit Meyer, “Mediation and Immediacy: Sensational Forms, Semiotic Ideologies and the Question of the Medium,” Social Anthropology 19, no. 1 (2010): 23–39; and Mattijs van de Port, “(Not) Made by the Human Hand: Media Consciousness and Immediacy in the Cultural Production of the Real,” Social Anthropology 19, no. 1 (2010): 74–89.
  • [x]. The “conflict thesis” is usually traced back to John William Draper, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (New York: Appleton, 1878). For recent critiques, see John Hedley Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Thomas Dixon, Geoffrey Cantor, and Stephen Pumfrey, eds., Science and Religion: New Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); and Ronald L. Numbers, ed., Galileo Goes to Jail, and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009). On “scientific wonders” and the culture of public scientific spectacle, see Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and Christine Blondel, eds., Science and Spectacle in the European Enlightenment (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008); Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150–1750 (New York: Zone Books, 1998); James Delbourgo, A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders: Electricity and Enlightenment in Early America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006); Fred Nadis, Wonder Shows: Performing Science, Magic, and Religion in America (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2005); and Simon Schaffer, “Natural Philosophy and Public Spectacle in the Eighteenth Century,” History of Science 21 (March 1983): 1–43.
  • [xi]. Jacques Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone,” in Religion, edited by Jacques Derrida and Gianni Vattimo, 56–57 passim (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).
  • [xii]. On “cybergnosticism,” see Stef Aupers, Dick Houtman, and Peter Pels, “Cybergnosticism: Technology, Religion, and the Secular,” in Religion: Beyond a Concept, ed. Hent de Vries (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 687–703. On the “disembodiment” of information and the dismantling of the humanist subject in cybernetic discourse, see N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999). On the creation of “hybrids,” see Ann Balsamo, Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999); Elaine Graham, Representations of the Post/Human: Monsters, Aliens and Others in Popular Culture (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2002); and Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991).
  • [xiii]. On visual phantasmagoria, especially in the history of photography and early cinema, see Clément Chéroux, ed., The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004); Tom Gunning, “Phantom Images and Modern Manifestations: Spirit Photography, Magic Theater, Trick Films, and Photography’s Uncanny,” in Fugitive Images: From Photography to Video, ed. Patrice Petro (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995). 42–71; Gunning, “To Scan a Ghost: The Ontology of Mediated Vision,” Grey Room 26 (Winter 2007): 94–127; Corey Keller, ed., Brought to Light: Photography and the Invisible, 1840–1900 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007); Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media into the Twenty-first Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). On the religiosity of “special effects,” see de Vries, “Of Miracles and Special Effects,” International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 50, no. 1 (December 2001): 41–56. On Pokémon, see Anne Allison, Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006). On “the digital sublime,” see Vincent Mosco, The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power and Cyberspace (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004). More generally, on the theme of “magic in modernity,” ranging from studies of “voodoo economics” to “ghosts in the machine” of modern politics to the hazy borderlands that divide “secular” from “real” magic, see Jean Comaroff, “Occult Economies and the Violence of Abstraction: Notes from the South African Postcolony,” American Ethnologist 26 (1999): 279–301; Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff, “Millennial Capitalism: First Thoughts on a Second Coming,” in Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism, ed. Comaroff and Comaroff (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001), 1–56; Erik Davis, Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (New York: Harmony Books, 1998); Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kaumpf (New York: Routledge, 1994); Simon During, Modern Enchantments: The Cultural and Secular Power of Magic (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2002); Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997); Birgit Meyer and Peter Pels, eds., Magic and Modernity: Interfaces of Revelation and Concealment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003); Pels, “Magical Things: on Fetishes, Commodities, and Computers,” in The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies, ed. D. Hicks and M. C. Beaudry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 613–33; Jeffrey Sconce, Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000); Randall Styers, Making Magic: Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Michael Taussig, The Magic of the State (New York: Routledge, 1997); Pamela Thurschwell, Literature, Technology and Magical Thinking, 1880–1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
  • [xiv]. One of the few volumes purporting to offer a comprehensive account of the topic is Jay Newman, Religion and Technology: A Study in the Philosophy of Culture (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997), although that book differs from the present work by having silently assumed a Christian vocabulary for defining and distinguishing religion and technology (an issue to which I shall return presently).
  • [xv]. See, for instance, Lynn White Jr., Medieval Religion and Technology: Collected Essays (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978). An important early foray into this topic is Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1934); see also the references cited in the chapters by Peters and Ernst in this volume.
  • [xvi]. David F. Noble, The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention (New York: Albert A. Knopf, 1997).
  • [xvii]. See, for instance, Robert Merton, “Studies in the Sociology of Science,” in idem, Social Theory and Social Structure, rev. and enlarged ed. (New York: Free Press, 1957), 531–627; David B. Ruderman, Kabbalah, Magic and Science: The Cultural Universe of a Sixteenth-Century Jewish Physician (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1988); Frances A. Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972).
  • [xviii]. On al-Biruni and other Muslim scientists of the medieval period, see George Saliba, Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2007). On Boyle, see Merton, “Studies.” On Newton’s relationship with alchemy, see William R. Newman and Anthony Grafton, eds., Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001); Charles Webster, From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982); on John Wesley, see Paola Bertucci, “Revealing Sparks: John Wesley and the Religious Utility of Electrical Healing,” British Journal for the History of Science 33, no. 3 (2006): 341–62. On the role of magic in the construction of European modernity, in addition to the sources cited in note 14, see Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980); Zakiya Hanafi, The Monster in the Machine: Magic, Medicine, and the Marvelous in the Time of the Scientific Revolution (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000).
  • [xix]. See, for instance, Thomas Hankins and Robert Silverman, Instruments and the Imagination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).
  • [xx]. Norbert Wiener, God and Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1964); Dean Hamer, The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired into Our Genes (New York: Anchor Books, 2005). For a nuanced critique of efforts to reduce religious affects, modes of behavior, and structures of belief to the “hard wiring” of human cognition, see Barbara Herrnstein-Smith, Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).
  • [xxi]. See, for instance, Lesley Howsam, Cheap Bibles: Nineteenth-Century Publishing and the British and Foreign Bible Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); David Paul Nord, Faith in Reading: Religious Publishing and the Birth of Mass Media in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). For a more ambitious study of nineteenth-century missionary work, one that seeks to circumvent what I am here calling the “instrumentalist trap,” see John Lardas Modern, “Evangelical Secularism and the Measure of Leviathan,” Church History 77, no. 4 (December 2008): 801–76.
  • [xxii]. For more nuanced accounts of the relationship between diabolization and technological modernity, in particular as they were worked out in the context of colonial encounter, see Meyer, Translating the Devil: Religion and Modernity Among the Ewe in Ghana (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999); and Taussig, The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980).
  • [xxiii]. Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).
  • [xxiv]. This argument is elaborated in extensive detail in Styers, Making Magic.
  • [xxv]. See especially Meyer and Pels, eds., Magic and Modernity. For other treatments of magic that do not so simply perpetuate the divide that locates “magic” on the far side of rational modernity, see Alfred Gell, “Technology and Magic,” Anthropology Today 4, no. 2 (1988): 6–9; Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); see also the sources cited in note 13.
  • [xxvi]. See Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” in idem, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (New York: Harper, 1977), 3–35; Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society (New York: Vintage Books, 1964); Ellul, Jacques Ellul on Religion, Technology and Politics: Conversations with Patrick Troude-Chastenet, trans. Joan Mendès France (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1998); Paul Tillich, The Spiritual Situation in Our Technical Society, ed. J. Mark Thomas (1955–1963; Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1988). Many so-called “pessimistic” or “antimodern” critiques of modern technology assume a Christian perspective, either explicitly or implicitly; see, for instance, Albert Borgmann, Power Failure: Christianity in the Culture of Technology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2003); Michael Breen, Eamonn Conway, and Barry McMillan, eds., Technology and Transcendence (Dublin: The Columba Press, 2003); David J. Hawkin, The Twenty-first Century Confronts Its Gods: Globalization, Technology and War (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2004); Murray Jardine, The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society: How Christianity Can Save Modernity From Itself (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2004); Quentin J. Schultze, Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002); and William A. Stahl, God and the Chip: Religion and the Culture of Technology (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1999).
  • [xxvii]. Interview with Heidegger by the German magazine Der Spiegel, conducted on 23 September 1966 and published posthumously on 31 May 1976; English translation in The Heidegger Controversy: A Critical Reader, edited by Richard Wolin, 91ff (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992).
  • [xxviii]. On the other hand, for a brilliant reading of the resonance between Heidegger’s critique of technological modernity and mystical and apophatic theological traditions (as represented, inter alia, by the writings of Gregory of Nyssa and Nicholas of Cusa), which challenges dominant definitions of humanity, creativity, and world-making, see Thomas A. Carlson, The Indiscrete Image: Infinitude and the Creation of the Human (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).
  • [xxix]. Max Weber, “Science as a Vocation,” in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (1919; New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), 139.
  • [xxx]. Among the many examples of critique of religious fundamentalism inspired (at least implicitly) by Weber’s analysis of disenchantment, see Haym Soloveitchik, “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy,” Tradition 28 (1994): 64–130. For an extensive rejoinder to Weber’s treatment of the relationship between magic and modernity, both inside and outside the theaters of Western capitalism, industry, politics, and science, see Meyer and Pels, eds., Magic and Modernity.
  • [xxxi]. Heidegger, “Question,” 13f; see also Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, I: The Fault of Epimetheus, trans. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 1ff.
  • [xxxii]. For a particularly serviceable overview of the history of the word “technology,” see Carl Mitcham, Thinking Through Technology: The Path Between Engineering and Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).
  • [xxxiii]. See Amos Funkenstein, Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989); Bronislaw Szerszynski, Nature, Technology and the Sacred (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005).
  • [xxxiv]. See André Leroi-Gourhan, Milieu et techniques (Paris: Éditions Albin Michel, 1945); Leroi-Gourhan, Le geste et la parole, Tome 1: Technique et langage (Paris: Éditions Albin Michel, 1965).
  • [xxxv]. Stiegler, Technics and Time, 140ff; see also Stiegler, “Derrida and Technology: Fidelity at the Limits of Deconstruction and the Prosthesis of Faith,” in Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader, edited by Tom Cohen, 238–70 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
  • [xxxvi]. See, e.g., Latour, “Technology Is Society Made Durable,” in A Sociology of Monsters: Essays on Power, Technology and Domination, ed. John Law (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), 103–31; Latour, “Where Are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artefacts,” in Shaping Technology—Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change, ed. Wiebe E. Bijker and John Law (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), 225–58; Latour, “When Things Strike Back,” British Journal of Sociology 51, no. 1 (2000): 107–23.
  • [xxxvii]. Alongside Friedrich Kittler and Siegfried Zielinski, Wolfgang Ernst has become a significant contributor to the development of media archaeological methods. In addition to his chapter in this volume, see Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012). For a useful recent overview of media archaeology, see Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka, eds., Media Archaeology: Approaches and Implications (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).
  • [xxxviii]. See Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Disciplines and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); David Chidester, Savage Systems: Colonialism and Comparative Religion in Southern Africa (Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1996); Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions, Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); Guy Strousma, A New Science: The Discovery of Religion in the Age of Reason (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010).
  • [xxxix]. Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge,” 29ff.
  • [xxxx]. For an extended definition of catachresis, see the French grammarian Pierre Fontanier’s magisterial synthesis of classical rhetoric: Fontanier, Les Figures du discours (Paris: Flammarion, 1977 [orig. 1821]), 213–19. Interest in the trope of “catechresis” has been revived in recent years, notably by Gayatri Spivak, who uses the term to map the exchange of concepts between the Western metropolis and its former territories, grafting concepts such as “nation,” “constitution,” and “democracy” into situations where they find no native referents, because these terms are of uniquely Western European provenance; see Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine (New York: Routledge, 1993), 20–38. There is an intended resonance between Spivak’s use of the term and its appearance in this text.

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