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Bernard Shaw's Gnostic Genius

Kilner-Johnson, Allan (2020) Bernard Shaw's Gnostic Genius SHAW: The Journal of Bernard Shaw Studies.

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During the penultimate year of the First World War—against the backdrop of the Battle of Passchendaele, the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, and Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war on Germany—sociologist Max Weber famously observed that “the fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world’.” Weber’s sense that modernity was delineated by a great cultural shift toward rationalism and secularisation offered a compelling explanation for the march of capitalism, rapidisation, and subjective detachment that characterised many of the most pressing cultural forces of the first two decades of the twentieth century. Weber’s disenchantment thesis would have a considerable influence on subsequent socio-historical assessments of the modernist project, however it has more recently been shown to provide an incomplete picture of the intellectual recourses of a period of significant transformation and change. James A.K. Smith argues that “the prophetic prognostications of Weber and his ilk proved to be only the predictions of false prophets,” and Peter Berger’s sustained questioning of Weber’s thesis leads, by his final book The Many Altars of Modernity (2014), to the opinion that Weber misread heterogeneity of spiritual practice as the rejection of faith:

"Pluralism, the co-existence of different worldviews and value systems in the same society is the major change brought about by modernity for the place of religion both in the minds of individuals and in the institutional order."

In Berger’s late work, modernity is defined not by the emergence of disenchantment but by the “huge transformation in the human condition from fate to choice,” a transition in no way antithetical to the pre-eminence of faith and religious fervour in cultural expression. The syncretistic energy of the late-nineteenth-century was not simply brushed aside to make way for the supposedly more rational modern world, but, rather, continued to evolve and expand into a sustained movement from orthodoxy to heterodoxy in spiritual belief, a pivotal cultural transition which is captured in both the dramatic writing and religious speeches of Bernard Shaw.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > School of Literature and Languages
Authors :
Date : December 2020
Copyright Disclaimer : © Penn State University Press 2019
Related URLs :
Depositing User : Clive Harris
Date Deposited : 05 Feb 2019 09:58
Last Modified : 26 Apr 2019 13:13

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