American enchantment: Rituals of the people in the post-revolutionary world

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14 Scopus citations


This book investigates the post-revolutionary rituals and discourses of enchantment, a category of mystical experience uniquely capable of producing new forms of popular power and social affiliation. American Enchantment views this phenomenon as a response to a signature problem in post-revolutionary culture: how to represent the people in the absence of the king’s body and other traditional monarchical forms. In the early United States, this absence inaugurates new attempts to conjure the people and to reconstruct the symbolic order. For many in this era, these efforts converge on enchantment. This pattern appears in works by Charles Brockden Brown, Washington Irving, Catharine Sedgwick, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, as well as in the rites of George Washington’s presidency, the religious prophecy of the Second Great Awakening, the tar and featherings of the Whiskey Rebellion, and other ritual practices such as romance reading. Recognizing the role of enchantment in constituting the people overturns some of our most commonsense assumptions: above all, the people are not simply a flesh-and-blood substance but also a supernatural force. This project makes a significant contribution to interdisciplinary scholarship on the symbolic foundations of sovereignty by arguing that the new popular sovereignty is no longer an embodied presence fixed in space-in a king, nor even in a president, an individual, a group of persons, or the state-but a numinous force dispersed through time. That is, the people, counter to all traditional thought, are a supernatural and temporal process.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages244
ISBN (Electronic)9780190627539
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Oxford University Press 2018.


  • Enchantment
  • Revolution
  • Rituals
  • Sovereignty
  • Supernatural
  • The people
  • Time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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