Max Weber, writing during a period that he felt marked a shift into a new world of modernity, described that world as follows:
The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the “disenchantment of the world.” … To the person who cannot bear the fate of the times like a man, one must say: may he rather return silently, without the usual publicity build-up of renegades, but simply and plainly. The arms of the old churches are opened widely and compassionately for him.
The emergence of modernity has entailed a loss of the enchanted cosmology that defined traditional societies. Weber characteristically viewed such a rationalization of the world in ambivalent terms. It has led to the recognition that the world is governed by humans, not gods, and it has allowed us to make a rational science of human society. These were, to Weber, overall good things, and the resulting disenchantment of the world ought thus to be thought of as something we must learn to bear as the flip-side of the same coin. Those too weak to face this shift can always return to the churches – the remnants of the traditional world.
This tradition–modernity distinction has dominated not only the field of religious studies but also commonsensical views in the West for the past two centuries concerning religions in general. Humans before the modern period believed themselves to be living in a world created and controlled by gods; according to this framework, in which the cosmos was therefore structured, humanity had a predefined place and purpose for existence, and human societies were given order through religious beliefs and institutions.