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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
March 2024
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Book description

In his famous argument against miracles, David Hume gets to the heart of the modern problem of supernatural belief. 'We are apt', says Hume, 'to imagine ourselves transported into some new world; where the whole form of nature is disjointed, and every element performs its operation in a different manner, from what it does at present.' This encapsulates, observes Peter Harrison, the disjuncture between contemporary Western culture and medieval societies. In the Middle Ages, people saw the hand of God at work everywhere. Indeed, many suppose that 'belief in the supernatural' is likewise fundamental nowadays to religious commitment. But dichotomising between 'naturalism' and 'supernaturalism' is actually a relatively recent phenomenon, just as the notion of 'belief' emerged historically late. In this masterful contribution to intellectual history, the author overturns crucial misconceptions – 'myths' – about secular modernity, challenging common misunderstandings of the past even as he reinvigorates religious thinking in the present.


‘This is a superb book that takes on big questions and offers satisfying answers. Harrison's very careful examination of the development of the concepts of ‘supernaturalism' and ‘belief' is full of brilliant, new insights. This major new work will only add to his reputation as one of the leading figures in the humanities.'

Bernard Lightman - Professor of Humanities, York University, Toronto, author of Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences (2007) and The Origins of Agnosticism: Victorian Unbelief and the Limits of Knowledge (1987)

‘A brilliant and fascinating exploration of religion and science as they have come to be conceptualised, usually in opposition to each other, in the modern West. Drawing on a wide range of thinkers and ideas, Some New World will significantly shape future scholarly discussions.'

Jane Shaw - Principal of Harris Manchester College, Professor of the History of Religion, and Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Oxford, and author of Miracles in Enlightenment England (2006)

‘Some New World is an epochal piece of scholarly work. It forces us to question the foundational categories we use for thinking about science, religion, and their intersection. It feels as though Some New World is the culmination of the trajectory of the work the author has been doing for decades. This outstanding book will surely be the focus of scholarly discussion for a generation to come.'

Matthew Stanley - Professor of the History of Science, Gallatin School of Individualized Study, New York University, author of Einstein's War: How Relativity Conquered Nationalism and Shook the World (2019) and Huxley's Church and Maxwell's Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science (2014)

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