Durkheim and the Anthropology of Religion

Tremlett, P. (2017). Durkheim and the Anthropology of Religion. Oxford Bibliographies in Anthropology. Oxford University Press.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/OBO/9780199766567-0177

URL: http://oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-...


Émile Durkheim (b. 1858–d. 1917) is regarded, alongside Max Weber, as a founder of the discipline of sociology. Durkheim wrote groundbreaking texts about modernity, sociological method, and suicide (among others); in 1896 he founded the journal L’Année sociologique and trained or influenced a generation of French scholars including Marcel Granet, Maurice Halbwachs, Robert Hertz, Henri Hubert, and Marcel Mauss, among others. His work on classification and on religion today remains of such import that he may equally be considered, alongside E. B. Tylor, as a founder of the anthropology of religion, and his influence on anthropology can be traced in the works of Mary Douglas, E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Bronislaw Malinowski, Talcott Parsons, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown, but also Max Gluckman, Victor Turner, Jeffrey Alexander and even David Graeber among many others. The interpretation of his later works—notably Durkheim and Mauss 1963 (cited under On Classification) and Durkheim 1915 (cited under On Classification and On Religion)—has been particularly important to the reception of his wider oeuvre and significance. Some have argued for an intellectual consistency across Durkheim’s writing while others have suggested that where his early works were deterministic and positivistic, the later works advance a quite different theoretical agenda in which emotional and irrational forces lie at the center of social life. This “other” Durkheim found its way into the work of the Collège de Sociologie and the writings of Georges Bataille, Roger Caillois, and Michel Leiris among others. If some British anthropologists such as Radcliffe-Brown saw in Durkheim’s interest in ritual (for example) the possibility for an objective science of institutions, others discovered a radical Durkheim for whom the spontaneous affectivity of ritual is constitutive of society as much as the constraining forces of the social fact.

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