Enchantment and Disenchantment in the Modern World

2016 – 2017

In the last 500 years the Western World has gone through a process of “disenchantment” with tremendous consequences for the way we live and experience the world, society, and ourselves. Meaning, which used to inhere in things, is now often seen as purely subjective, projected by us onto the world. Time and space are flat and communities mere aggregates of individuals.  Yet paradoxes remain: while evil becomes impersonal and natural it becomes both more and less threatening; genuinely scientific knowledge is supposed to require critical distance while data-driven policy making is routinely criticized for lacking personal contact and familiarity with the human beings it affects.  And the enchanted world endures in the small things. Family heirlooms still have meaning inhere in them, we pause at select moments and spaces to commemorate past greatness, and throughout the modern world the cry resounds for closer connections among the solitary individuals we have become. Can we really dispose of enchantment, and should we try to?  Would it make sense, on the contrary, to recultivate “enchantment” in the modern research university – the very place that was supposed to disenchant the rest of the world?

This monthly seminar is an intercollegiate community of Penn, Villanova, Swarthmore, Eastern, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford students who together address the question, How can the Humanities actually humanize us?

This year, Paideia will explore whether we ought to recultivate enchantment in the modern research university—the very place that was supposed to disenchant the rest of the world.  We will explore these questions through a series of dinner seminars and excursions focusing on themes like the modern texture of time and space, the way we deal with evil, how and where we find meaning, the bonds of voluntary community, the relationship between knowledge and love, and the desire for transcendence.

To register for the program, please contact Elizabeth Feeney at (

Previous Seminar Topics this Year

Friday, September 2: Magic in the Ancient World: discussion and tour of the Penn Museum’s special exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania

Friday, October 28: Enchantments of Mammon: Special guest, Dr. Eugene McCarraher on the enchantments of mammon / modern capitalism at Villanova University

Friday, December 2: (Dis)enchanted Reading?: Special guest, Dr. Jeffrey Dill on disenchantment in the modern academy and literature at Eastern University

Friday, February 24: Enchantments of Modern Science: Special guests, Dr. Joshua Schrier (Chemistry, Haverford) and Dr. Marisa March (Physics, UPenn) on science’s role in enchanting and disenchanting the modern world at Haverford College

Friday, March 24: Conversions: a discussion of Augustine’s Confessions and conversion in the Western Tradition, with Special guests, Dr. Phillip Cary (Eastern University) and Dr. Erika Kidd (University of St. Thomas and current invited fellow at the Augustinian Institute at Villanova University)

Friday, April 21: Poetry as Enchantment: Collegium’s Annual Humanities Symposium.  Special guest, Dr. James M. Wilson (Villanova) presented the methods which poetry uses to enchant and set the stage for students for an evening of dinner and poetry recitation.