Defining terms is a foundational task in academic studies, and a clear example of its importance is in the ongoing debates on the relationship between magic and religion. Because of the various ways in which magic has been defined over time and because of the negative connotations that can accompany some definitions, explorations of magic and religion are rife with misunderstanding and ethnocentrism, most famously dating back to the milieu of cultural evolution that characterized nineteenth-century anthropology, especially in the works of Edward B. Taylor and James G. Frazer. However, questions about the relationship between magic and religion go back much further, even into biblical times, and it is these difficult issues that Shawna Dolansky explores in her monograph Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Biblical Perspectives on the Relationship between Magic and Religion.
Those interested in Mormon studies will find value in Dolansky’s ideas because of the controversial debates about Joseph Smith’s involvement in treasure digging and other magic-associated activities. Despite her focus on a different time and place, her approach is helpful because it expands the reach of magic by pointing out the inescapable structural overlaps it has with religion. Applied to Joseph Smith, Dolansky’s book encourages scholars to use both etic and emic ideas in considering the complexities in accounts of Joseph’s practice of folk magic and in his use of divinely sanctioned powers.