Anthropology Durkheim and the Anthropology of Religion
by
Paul-Francois Tremlett
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0177

Introduction

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.

Durkheim’s Life and Work

The literature on Durkheim’s life and work is extensive and it is impossible to do justice to all of it here. The purpose of this section is to provide some indication of the breadth of that literature, from the magisterial volumes of Fournier 2013 and Lukes 1973 to much shorter, but valuable, introductions such as Parkin 1992.

  • Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Philip Smith, eds. 2005. The Cambridge companion to Durkheim. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    This is an outstanding collection of essays covering all aspects of Durkheim’s life and work and includes contributions from some of the foremost scholars in the field—notably Jeffrey Alexander, Philippe Bresnard, Marcel Fournier, and Edward Tiryakian—as well as key interlocutors including Zygmunt Bauman, Robert N. Bellah, Robert Alun Jones, and Chris Shilling.

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  • Bellah, Robert N., ed. 1973. Émile Durkheim: On morality and society. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    A very useful introduction to a selection of Durkheim’s writings from The division of labour in society (Durkheim 2014), The elementary forms of the religious life (Durkheim 1915, cited under On Classification and On Religion), and five essays specially translated by Mark Traugott. Bellah emphasizes Durkheim’s constructivism and his conception of society as a moral phenomenon and, more controversially, claims Durkheim to be a kind of theologian of civil religion.

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  • Fournier, Marcel. 2013. Émile Durkheim: A biography. Translated by David Macey. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

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    Definitive account of Durkheim’s life and work, drawing on unpublished documents, letters, and manuscripts from the Hubert-Mauss archives at the Collège de France, with considerable focus on the team of scholars Durkheim assembled around him, in particular Marcel Mauss. Fournier details the intellectual milieu of the time and the struggles Durkheim faced as he sought to institutionalize the new discipline.

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  • Jones, Susan Stedman. 2001. Durkheim reconsidered. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

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    Critical introduction to Durkheim that argues for the centrality of Durkheim’s intellectual debt to Charles Renouvier. Includes a glossary of key terms and short biographical sketches of some key individuals who either influenced Durkheim or have been important to the reception of his work.

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  • Lukes, Steven. 1973. Émile Durkheim, his life and work: A historical and critical study. London: Penguin.

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    A brilliant intellectual biography based in interviews with surviving members of Durkheim’s circle and archives at the University of Bordeaux. Includes detailed, critical discussion of Durkheim’s work. Lukes stresses the complexity of Durkheim’s oeuvre and his passion for social order but also for individual freedom.

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  • Parkin, Frank. 1992. Durkheim. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A short but accessible and critical introduction to Durkheim’s work.

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  • Parsons, Talcott. 1949. The structure of social action. 2d ed. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

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    Parsons interprets Durkheim’s work—alongside that of Vilfredo Pareto, Alfred Marshall, and Max Weber—as consonant with his own interest in social action and the subjective basis of social solidarity.

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  • Pickering, W. S. F., and H. Martins, eds. 1994. Debating Durkheim. London: Routledge.

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    An accessible volume of essays that engage with different aspects of Durkheim’s life and work including his Jewishness, his work On Classification, and his concept of the social fact and sociological method. Published in conjunction with the British Centre for Durkheimian Studies.

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  • Strenski, Ivan. 2006. The New Durkheim. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    In this collection of essays, Strenski explores the continuing theoretical vitality of Durkheim’s ideas and their application to contemporary issues.

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  • Tiryakian, Edward A. 2009. For Durkheim: Essays in historical and cultural sociology. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

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    Collection of essays on Durkheim contextualizing his work, and particularly exploring Durkheim’s interrogations of social change and the relationship of Durkheim’s work to that of Max Weber.

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On Religion

In this and two subsequent sections, the focus is on Durkheim’s The elementary forms of the religious life, written in 1915. This book has been hugely influential on the anthropological canon and the anthropology of religion in particular. Despite the representation of Durkheim as a founder of the discipline of sociology, his primary interlocutors in The elementary forms are anthropologists. It is usefully juxtaposed with E. B. Tylor’s Primitive culture, written in 1903, and addresses debates that were vital during Durkheim’s lifetime, particularly surrounding the origins of religion. For example, Tylor 1903 argued that the origins of religion lay in the experience of the dream and the double, and the failure to distinguish waking from dream states (see Tylor 1903, p. 428). This experience prompted the development of a theory of souls which in turn led to the emergence of the theory of animism, the idea of a fully animated world. According to Tylor, animism was the original religion and he claimed that it was an attempt to causally explain ordinary phenomena (p. 108). This argument is comprehensively refuted by Durkheim. In a single passage Durkheim suggests that the “primary object” of religion “is not to give man a representation of the world.” Rather, “it is a system of ideas with which the individuals represent to themselves the society of which they are members and the obscure but intimate relations which they have with it” (Durkheim 1915, p. 225). For Durkheim, the original religion is “totemism” and he claims its origins lie in ritual assemblies which generate a collective emotional “effervescence” (p. 218) such that participants come to feel that they are acted upon by some external force. This external force is not any religious being or power but society itself, and it comes to be metaphorically represented by the totem, the “flag,” or the “emblem” of the society (p. 206). Durkheim also suggests that there can be “no society which does not feel the need of upholding and reaffirming at regular intervals the collective sentiments and the collective ideas which make its unity and its personality” (p. 427), implying that secular societies might also be marked by the performance of rituals for the purpose of reinforcing collective sentiments. As examined in Douglas 1966 (cited under On Classification), Durkheim’s theory of religion draws on Gustav Le Bon’s theory of crowd psychology (Douglas 1966, p. 20). Noteworthy too is the centrality of misrecognition (or ideology) to Durkheim’s account of ritual.

  • Alexander, Jeffrey C., ed. 1988. Durkheimian sociology: Cultural studies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Provocative collection of essays that develops the notion of a cultural and indeed Durkheimian sociology. The essays explore aspects of Durkheim’s work, particularly with regard to religion, applying them to new questions from the sacred and the French Revolution to media as ritual. A landmark text.

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  • Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Philip Smith, eds. 2005. The Cambridge companion to Durkheim. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    See in particular the essays by Karen Fields and Robert Alun Jones.

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  • Datta, Ronjon Paul, and Tara Hope Milbrandt. 2014. Introduction. In Special issue: The elementary forms of religious life: Discursive monument, religious feast. Edited by Ronjon Paul Datta and Tara Hope Milbrandt, Canadian Journal of Sociology 39.4: 473–522.

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    Editors’ introduction to a recent special issue of the Canadian Journal of Sociology dedicated to exploring Emile Durkheim’s 1915 work. Includes essays by Marcel Fournier, Barbara Misztal, Frank Pearce, William Ramp, and Alexander T. Riley among others.

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  • Durkheim, Emile. 1915. The elementary forms of the religious life. Translated by Joseph Ward Swain. London: Allen and Unwin.

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    Swain’s English translation of Les formes elementaires de la vie religieuse (Paris: F. Alcan) that was first published in 1912. A landmark refutation of evolutionary approaches to religion that placed ritual, the irrational, and affect at the heart of society and cognition and which remains today a landmark text in the anthropology of religion.

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  • Jones, Robert Alun. 2005. The secret of the totem: Religion and society from McLennan to Freud. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Historical overview of the development of the category of “totemism.”

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  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1990. Review of Les formes elementaires de la vie religieuse. In Emile Durkheim: Critical assessments. Vol. 3. Edited by Peter Hamilton, 217–221. London: Routledge.

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    Originally published in the journal Folklore in 1913, this is Malinowski’s original review of the French edition.

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  • Pickering, W. S. F. 1984. Durkheim’s sociology of religion: Themes and theories. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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    Comprehensive treatment including analysis of unpublished work by Durkheim as well as secondary literatures, in which it is argued that religion is the key to understanding Durkheim’s intellectual project as a whole.

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  • Taylor, Charles. 2007. A secular age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Taylor sets out to tell the story of Western secularism. Disenchanted with the secularization thesis and its prediction of religion’s inexorable decline in the face of science and modernity, Taylor proposes paleo-, neo-, and post-Durkheimian forms of religion to describe the relation of religion to society from the thoroughly embedded to the entirely disembedded.

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  • Tylor, Edward Burnett. 1903. Primitive culture: Researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, language, art and custom. Vols. 1 and 2. 4th ed. London: John Murray.

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    Tylor was Durkheim’s primary interlocutor throughout The elementary forms. Durkheim refutes Tylor’s claim that the origins of religion lie in animism and Tylor’s insistence that religion is explanatory in nature.

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On Ritual

Ritual has been a constant of the anthropology and sociology of religion and is practically a sine qua non of standard conceptions of the field. However from Durkheim 1915 (cited under On Religion and On Classification) onward, it has been possible to consider ritual not simply as something related to religion but equally as something implicated in a constellation of problems concerned with containing, inhibiting, performing, or marking change and relations of solidarity. For example, sociologists and anthropologists interested in ritual have emphasized the regulative and constraining effects of ritual on bodies, the relationship of ritual to symbolic and instrumental forms of action, the opposition of private states to public performances, and the implication of ritual in the reproduction of social, political, and economic power and its effects.

  • Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Philip Smith, eds. 2005. The Cambridge companion to Durkheim. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    See in particular the essays by Robert Bellah and Chris Shilling.

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  • Bloch, Maurice. 1986. From blessing to violence: History and ideology in the circumcision ritual of the Merina of Madagascar. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Classic ethnography which ties the performance of political power to the production of legitimacy through ideological misrecognition. Bloch argues for the stability of ritual despite the contingency of history.

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  • Bloch, Maurice. 2015. Durkheimian anthropology and religion: Going in and out of each other’s bodies. Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5.3: 285–299.

    DOI: 10.14318/hau5.3.019Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Bloch engages with cognitive theory (specifically, theory of mind) to reflect on Durkheim’s concepts of solidarity, ritual, and the moral dimensions of the social. The article is a reprint of an essay of the same name in Religion, Anthropology, and Cognitive Science, edited by Harvey Whitehouse and James Laidlaw, 63–88 (Ritual studies monograph series. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press).

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  • Connerton, Paul. 1989. How societies remember. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511628061Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Is memory psychological or social? Is memory entwined with embodied performance or cognitive representation? In this brilliant volume, Connerton—drawing from Halbwachs’s claim that memory is context-dependent both for its formation and recall—ties memory together with ritual, performance, and the body.

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  • Goody, Jack. 1990. Religion and ritual: The definitional problem. In Emile Durkheim: Critical assessments. Vol. 3. Edited by Peter Hamilton. London: Routledge.

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    Originally published in the British Journal of Sociology in 1961, Goody explores Durkheim’s work On Religion and ritual, placing that work in conversation with Caillois, Evans-Pritchard, Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, Talcott Parsons, and Tylor.

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  • Halbwachs, Maurice. 1992. On collective memory. Translated by Lewis A. Coser. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Maurice Halbwachs was a student of Durkheim and this is his groundbreaking work on memory—neither personal nor psychological but thoroughly social.

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  • Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. 1952. Structure and function in primitive society. New York: Free Press.

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    Under the intellectual influence of Durkheim, Radcliffe-Brown was a key exponent of “structural functionalism,” advocating a synchronic approach to social systems with a key interest in the role of ritual in sustaining the equilibrium and cohesion of society. This collection of essays provides a useful introduction to his work and the influence of Durkheim on his thought.

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  • Rosati, Massimo. 2009. Ritual and the sacred: A neo-Durkheimian analysis of politics, religion and the self. Farham, UK: Ashgate.

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    Drawing from Jeffrey Alexander’s cultural sociology, Rosati asserts the centrality of ritual and the sacred to social life.

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  • Turner, Victor. 1977. The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

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    Like many British anthropologists of the 20th century, Turner was heavily influenced by Durkheim’s work. His work on ritual, which also drew from Van Gennep, stresses the importance of ritual to social cohesion, but also the importance of ritual as a moment of anti-structure—such as in the excesses of carnival—within the continuous renegotiation of order.

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  • Whitehouse, Harvey. 2000. Arguments and icons: Divergent modes of religiosity. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Drawing on Durkheim’s interest in ritual and solidarity and combining that with psychological theories of memory, Whitehouse develops a fascinating theory of religiosity: imagistic, intense and solidarity-inducing on one end of the spectrum, but doctrinal, sober, individualistic and intellectual at the other. Whitehouse places primacy on the cognitive basis for social formations.

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Durkheim and the Collège de Sociologie

The Collège de Sociologie was formed by Georges Bataille and members included not only Roger Caillois and Michel Leiris but also Walter Benjamin, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Claude Lévi-Strauss. The group drew its inspiration from the writings of Mauss 1992, as well as the conceptualization in Durkheim 1915 (cited under On Classification and On Religion) of the effervescent energies released during ritual occasions. For Bataille and other members of the Collège, what mattered was the impure sacred and they argued—in Nietzschean fashion—that excess, transgression, and violence were integral to the renewal of the sacred and society. The group was short-lived and its history has only recently been rediscovered. The intellectual concerns of the group arguably anticipate aspects of poststructuralist and postmodern thought.

  • Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Philip Smith, eds. 2005. The Cambridge companion to Durkheim. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    See in particular the essays by Roger Friedland and Alexander T. Riley.

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  • Baudrillard, Jean. 1993. Symbolic exchange and death. Translated by Iain Hamilton. London: SAGE.

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    Baudrillard’s shift from Marxism and critical theory to “fatal theory” sees him drawing from Durkheim, Bataille, and Nietzsche as he seeks to articulate a critique of capitalism drawing from the resources of the irrational and the symbolic.

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  • Fish, Jonathan S. 2005. Defending the Durkheimian tradition: Religion, emotion, and morality. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

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    Provocative re-reading of Durkheim and Talcott Parsons that explores the importance of emotion and the nonrational to the constitution of social life, drawing them into conversation with the postmodern theorists Michel Maffesoli and Jean Baudrillard.

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  • Grindon, Gavin. 2007. The breath of the possible. In Constituent imagination: Militant investigations, collective theorization. Edited by Stevphen Shukaitis, David Graeber, and Erika Biddle, 94–111. Oakland, CA: AK.

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    Grindon discusses the work of the Collège de Sociologie, surrealism, and situationism in terms of the centrality of aesthetics to contemporary forms of political protest.

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  • Mauss, Marcel. 1992. The gift: The form and reason for exchange in archaic societies. London: Routledge.

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    Mauss explores reciprocal exchange and develops a series of sharp contrasts between archaic societies and modern societies in the process. The book has been hugely influential in anthropology and philosophy. This edition includes a foreword by Mary Douglas.

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  • Pearce, Frank. 2003. Introduction: The Collège de Sociologie and French social thought. Economy and Society 32.1: 1–6.

    DOI: 10.1080/0308514032000045735Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Useful introduction to the work of the Collège de Sociologie and the extent to which its key figures—Georges Bataille, Roger Caillois, and Michel Leiris—drew on Durkheim’s work.

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  • Richman, Michèle. 2002. Sacred revolutions: Durkheim and the Collège de Sociologie. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

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    Richman begins with The elementary forms as a political text, and explores the importance of the sacred and symbolic to the writings of Durkheim but also Hertz, Mauss, Bataille, Caillois, and Leiris. Richman shows that their sacred sociology was a reaction against positivism and utilitarianism, enacted through the ethnographic detour as a means of seeing one’s society through the eyes of the other.

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  • Richman, Michèle. 2003. Myth, power, and the sacred: Anti-utilitarianism in the Collège de Sociologie 1937–1939. Economy and Society 32.1: 29–47.

    DOI: 10.1080/0308514032000045753Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Richman explores Durkheim’s left or impure sacred in the writings of the Collège de Sociologie as a critique of utilitarian anthropology.

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  • Rosati, Massimo. 2008. Inhabiting no-man’s land: Durkheim and modernity. Journal of Classical Sociology 8.2: 233–261.

    DOI: 10.1177/1468795X08088873Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article contextualizes The elementary forms in terms of Durkheim’s intellectual biography. Rosati examines the work of the Collège de Sociologie and the insistence on the centrality of the nonrational or sacred to society, as well as the theoretical debt to Durkheim.

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On Classification

In this section we focus on The elementary forms (1915) and Primitive classification (1963); the latter was co-authored with Marcel Mauss and originally published in L’Année Sociologique in 1903, and can be productively read alongside J. G. Frazer’s work on totemism (1910). Importantly, whereas for Frazer the origins of totemism lie in utilitarian calculation, for Durkheim religious thought is social and metaphorical in origin (see Durkheim 1915, p. 15) and, in The elementary forms, marked by the classification of the world into two absolutely heterogeneous realms, namely the sacred and the profane (pp. 37–38). Durkheim suggests that it is because “men were organized that they have been able to organize things, for in classifying these latter, they limited themselves to giving them places in the groups they formed themselves” (Durkheim 1915, p. 145; compare with Frazer 1910 and Lévi-Strauss 1964. Durkheim also suggests “anything can be sacred” (p. 37) meaning that there is no essential tie between an object and its classification, and indicating thereby the arbitrary and contingent character of cultural classification. Durkheim also engages with Kant in the early pages of The elementary forms to argue that the “categories”—which for Kant are biologically hardwired—are religious and ultimately social in origin (p. 10). These ideas are anticipated in Durkheim and Mauss 1963. The central insight of the essay is that classification is not merely a natural psychological propensity but is instead socially organized. “Every classification,” writes Durkheim and Mauss in Primitive classification, “implies a hierarchical order for which neither the tangible world nor our mind gives us the model” (p. 8). As such, Durkheim and Mauss argue for a “close link” (p. 41) between “the classification of things” and “the classification of men” (p. 11; italics in original). With this essay, they open out a range of questions not just about religion but about the relationship of forms of knowledge to forms of social organization, the world as disclosed through culturally mediated empirical experience, and questions of social change and the historicity of the classificatory schema through which societies come to know the world. Rodney Needham’s “Introduction” to Primitive classification makes abundantly clear the breadth and depth of Durkheim and Mauss’s influence on the anthropology of religion up until the early 1960s. This influence includes the analysis of ritual and modes of thought.

  • Allen, N. J. 2000. Categories and classifications: Maussian reflections on the social. Oxford: Berghahn.

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    Allen revisits Mauss, exploring his debt to Durkheim’s thought.

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  • Caillois, Roger. 1959. Man and the Sacred. Translated by Meyer Barash. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

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    Caillois works explicitly with Durkheim’s conceptions of the sacred and profane in terms of oppositions of pure and impure and good and evil.

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  • Douglas, Mary. 1966. Purity and danger: An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. London and New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203361832Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this groundbreaking work Douglas, drawing from Durkheim’s work On Ritual and classification, explores different cultural values assigned to dirt and cleanliness in different societies.

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  • Durkheim, Emile. 1915. The elementary forms of the religious life. Translated by Joseph Ward Swain. London: Allen and Unwin.

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    The English translation of Les Formes elementaires de la vie religieuse was first published in 1912. A landmark refutation of evolutionary approaches to religion that approaches thought as a social and cultural construction.

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  • Durkheim, Emile, and Marcel Mauss. 1963. Primitive classification. Translated and with an introduction by Rodney Needham. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    English translation of De quelques forms primitives de classification, which was first published in 1903. A groundbreaking treatment of cognitive classificatory schemas, arguing that their basis is social and cultural rather than psychological.

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  • Frazer, James, G. 1910. Totemism and exogamy: A treatise on certain early forms of superstition and society. Vol. 1. London: Macmillan.

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    Frazer’s account of totemism assumes its rational basis in the preservation of plant and animal species.

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  • Granet, Marcel. 1976. The religion of the Chinese people. Translated by Maurice Freedman with an introduction and editorial notes. New York: Harper and Row.

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    Granet paints a picture of the underlying unity of Chinese religion and religious thought, and Freedman’s introductory essay makes clear Granet’s debt to the style of analysis pioneered by Durkheim and Mauss.

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  • Hertz, Robert. 1960. Death and the right hand. Translated by Rodney and Claudia Needham. London: Cohen and West.

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    Hertz was a student of Durkheim and Mauss who was tragically killed in WWI. His book is made up of two essays: the first deals with mortuary rituals of the Dayak of Borneo, while the second deals with dualism in “primitive” thought and social organization. The introductory essay by Evans-Pritchard discusses the theoretical contribution of the “Durkheim school” to anthropology. With an introduction by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard.

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  • Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1964. Totemism. Translated by Rodney Needham. London: Merlin.

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    English translation of Le totemisme aujourd’hui, which was first published in 1962. Inspired by Durkheim, Lévi-Strauss argues that “totemism” is not a religion but is evidence for a particular mode of thinking and for the emergence of culture.

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On Methodology

In this section I have grouped together Durkheim’s The rules of sociological method (1982) and Suicide (1952). In The rules, Durkheim argues that society is both beyond and constitutive of the individual. Individuals internalize the norms, rules, and conventions particular to a society at a given point in time. Durkheim calls these norms, rules, and conventions “social facts.” Durkheim argues for the objectivity of social facts in terms of the “external coercion” or “sanction” that will be brought to bear upon the individual should he or she resist or break them (Durkheim 1982, p. 56), and defines the social fact as “every way of acting, fixed or not, capable of exercising on the individual an external constraint; or again, every way of acting which is general throughout a given society, while at the same time existing in its own right independent of its individual manifestations” (Durkheim 1982, p. 59; italics in original). For Durkheim, social facts are comparable to the things and objects of the natural sciences and as such, the methods of the natural sciences can be applied to their study. Elsewhere he writes that “social life must be explained not by the conception of it held by those who participate in it, but by profound causes which escape consciousness. We also think that these causes must be sought mainly in the way in which individuals associating together are formed in groups” (Durkheim 1982, p. 171). Durkheim’s approach to religion has frequently been represented in anthropology as positivistic and reductionist. However, it is worth pointing out first that Durkheim’s pronouncements on methodology were intended to establish sociology as a science on the model of biology and chemistry—the dominance of the sciences in the political imagination is not a new problem—while second, in The elementary forms, Durkheim followed pretty much none of the methodological procedures he outlined in The rules (see Alexander and Smith 2005). Moreover, the inclusion of Durkheim’s Suicide in this section points to the fact that it incorporates the objectivism and positivism of The rules (it follows Carl Hempel’s deductive-nomological model of scientific inquiry) but also suggests a shift in Durkheim’s methodological priorities when he states that “We start from the exterior because it alone is immediately given, but only to reach the interior” (p. 280, n 12).

  • Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Philip Smith, eds. 2005. The Cambridge companion to Durkheim. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    See in particular the essays by Jeffrey Alexander and Philippe Besnard.

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  • Asad, Talal. 1986. The concept of cultural translation in British social anthropology. In Writing culture: The poetics and politics of ethnography. Edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus, 141–164. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press.

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    This chapter should be read alongside the entries for Evans-Pritchard, Gellner, Alexander and Smith, and Winch in this section. The essays constitute a methodological engagement with questions of rationality, reductionism, relativism, Durkheimian functionalism, and translation in the anthropology of religion.

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  • Durkheim, Emile. 1952. Suicide: A study in sociology. Translated by John A. Spaulding and George Simpson. London and New York: Routledge.

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    English translation of Le Suicide, which was first published in 1897 (Paris: F. Alcan), and in which Durkheim advances, with what was at the time complete originality, a sociological (rather than psychological) explanation of suicide.

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  • Durkheim, Emile. 1982. The rules of the sociological method. Translated by W. D. Halls with an introduction by Steven Lukes. New York: Free Press.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-16939-9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    English translation of Les règles de la méthode sociologique, first published in 1895 (Paris: F. Alcan), in which Durkheim seeks to establish the scientific basis of the discipline of sociology through the delineation of the social fact. The text remains important to the extent to which it has shaped debates about method in the anthropology and sociology of religion.

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  • Evans-Pritchard, Edward Evan. 1956. Nuer Religion. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Brilliant ethnography famous for Evans-Pritchard’s telling navigation of the Nuer conundrum “twins are birds” that would become central to debates, in the anthropology of religion, to methodological questions of rationality, reductionism, Durkheimian functionalism, relativism, and translation in the anthropology of religion. This chapter should be read alongside the entries for Asad, Gellner, Alexander and Smith, and Winch in this section.

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  • Gellner, E. 1970. Concepts and society. In Rationality. Edited by Bryan R. Wilson, 18–50. Oxford: Blackwell.

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    Gellner’s (in)famous attack on Durkheimian functionalism, linguistic philosophy, and what he saw as associated problems of relativism and rationality in Evans-Pritchard’s ethnography The Nuer. This chapter should be read alongside the entries for Asad, Evans-Pritchard, Alexander and Smith, and Winch in this section.

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  • Giddens, Anthony. 1993. New rules of sociological method: A positive critique of interpretive sociologies. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

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    Essentially a critique of Durkheim’s insistence, in The rules, on the prior and external reality of society. Giddens argues instead for a hermeneutic and interpretive sociology.

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  • Keat, Russell, and John Urry. 1975. Social theory as science. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

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    Explores the philosophy of social science, including a discussion of realism, positivism, and conventionalism. Situates Durkheim’s methodological development usefully within the wider history of social theory.

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  • Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1994. The scope of anthropology. In Structural anthropology. Vol. 2. Translated by Monique Layton, 141–164. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.

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    Lévi-Strauss’s inaugural address to the Collège de France in 1960, in which there is significant discussion of Durkheim’s methodological contribution to French social anthropology.

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  • Urry, John. 2000. Sociology beyond society: Mobilities for the twenty-first century. London: Routledge.

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    Urry argues that sociology needs new metaphors for society and he proposes a number of such metaphors, all of which privilege notions of movement for a “post-societal age” with profound methodological implications for the conduct of sociological research in a post-Durkheimian mobile world.

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  • Winch, P. 1970. Understanding a primitive society. In Rationality. Edited by Bryan R. Wilson, 78–112. Oxford: Blackwell.

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    From one of the Oxford linguistic philosophers that aroused the substantial ire of Ernest Gellner, Winch’s work stands at the threshold of anthropology and philosophy as he engages closely with Evans-Pritchard’s Witchcraft, oracles and magic among the Azande (Oxford: Clarendon, 2014). Should be read alongside the entries for Asad, Evans-Pritchard, Gellner, and Alexander and Smith in this section of the bibliography.

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On Modernity

In this section we focus on The division of labour in society (2014) and Suicide (1952), works which register a shift in Durkheim’s approach to modernity, social structure and social change. In The division (Durkheim 2014) Durkheim takes the view that the new sciences of biology and sociology are analyzing processes that are more than merely similar in kind or lending themselves to metaphorical association (compare the different approaches to Durkheim’s biologism taken by Lewis Coser and Steven Lukes in their respective introductions to Durkheim 2014). Durkheim’s appeal to biology was, like Herbert Spencer’s, one premised upon the idea of a fundamental comparability of biological and social realms (Durkheim 2014, p. 34). Biology seemed to offer a means of imagining society as a kind of (bodily or organic) structure but also as one subject to dynamic processes of change and (pathological) transformation. Durkheim imagined a series of stages of development from “the horde” and “the clan” through subsequent stages to “industrial society,” characterized by a process of increasing complexity in the division of labor, and consequent shifts in the manner that individuals related to one another and the social structure, framed as the shift from mechanical to organic modes of social solidarity (pp. 138–150). This process, according to Durkheim, was conditioned by “the same law that governs biological development” (p. 149). In Suicide, Durkheim rejects attempts to explain suicide psychologically—that is, through recourse to motives or mental states. Instead, Durkheim’s analysis correlates suicide rates, suicide types, and types of society to generate a sociological analysis of the phenomenon. “At any given moment” he writes, “the moral constitution of society establishes the contingent of voluntary deaths . . . The victim’s acts which at first seem to express only his personal temperament, are really the supplement and prolongation of a social condition which they express externally” (Durkheim 1952, p. 263). A key category of Durkheim’s analysis is “anomie” (pp. 201–239), a feeling or force “that springs from the lack of collective forces at certain points in society” (p. 350), a normlessness linked to the transition to organic solidarity. However, Durkheim 1952 also points to the shift in Durkheim’s work away from the consideration of social structure as objective and external to the individual and toward the recognition of its subjective constitution.

  • Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Philip Smith, eds. 2005. The Cambridge companion to Durkheim. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    See in particular the essays by Zygmunt Bauman, Mark Cladis, and Edward Tiryakian.

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  • Durkheim, Emile. 1952. Suicide: A study in sociology. Translated by John A. Spaulding and George Simpson. London and New York: Routledge.

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    English translation of Le Suicide, first published in 1897 (Paris: F. Alcan), in which Durkheim advances, with what was at the time complete originality, a sociological (rather than psychological) explanation of suicide. The book points to the shift in Durkheim’s methodological priorities when he states that “We start from the exterior because it alone is immediately given, but only to reach the interior” (1952: p. 280, n 12).

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  • Durkheim, Emile. 2014. The division of labor in society. Translated by W. D. Halls and with a new introduction by Steven Lukes. New York: Free Press.

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    English translation of De la division du travail social, which was first published in 1893 (Paris, F. Alcan), in which Durkheim explores problems of social change. Includes a new introduction by Steven Lukes as well as Lewis Coser’s introduction to the 1984 edition. Durkheim seeks to unravel the transition to modernity and the shift from mechanical to organic modes of solidarity and the different ways through which individuals are bound together to form a society.

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  • Fish, Jonathan S. 2002. Religion and the changing intensity of emotional solidarities in Durkheim’s The Division of Labour in Society (1893). Journal of Classical Sociology 2.2: 203–223.

    DOI: 10.1177/1468795X02002002448Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Exploration of the non-rational or emotional basis of social solidarity in The Division, which is suggestive of a neglected link between Durkheim’s early and later writings.

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  • Gluckmann, Max. 1968. The utility of the equilibrium model in the study of social change. American Anthropologist 70.2: 219–237.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1968.70.2.02a00010Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Gluckman placed social stability to the fore of anthropological analysis. In the spirit of Durkheim, Gluckman claimed that tension and conflict were not negative but constitutive of society and processes of social reproduction.

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  • Hamilton, Peter, ed. 1990a. Emile Durkheim: Critical assessments. Vol. 2. London: Routledge.

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    Section 2 is a collection of essays exploring Durkheim’s The division of labor in society.

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  • Hamilton, Peter, ed. 1990b. Emile Durkheim: Critical assessments. Vol. 3. London: Routledge.

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    Section 4 is a collection of essays exploring Durkheim’s Suicide. [ISBN: 9780415017428]

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  • Kapferer, Bruce. 2005. Situations, crisis, and the anthropology of the concrete. The Manchester School Social Analysis 49.3: 85–122.

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    Account of Max Gluckman and the Manchester School’s “situational analysis” approach (itself an elaboration of the approaches developed by Durkheim and Radcliffe-Brown to ritual) to anthropology and its importance to the history of British anthropology and the anthropology of Africa.

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  • Urry, John. 2000. Sociology beyond society: Mobilities for the twenty-first century. London: Routledge.

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    Urry argues that sociology needs to move beyond static conceptions of society with profound implications for sociological theory and methods in a mobile world.

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Durkheim and the Anthropological Canon

Although acknowledged as a founder of the discipline of sociology, Durkheim’s presence in the anthropological canon is no surprise, particularly given the ongoing influence of his writings On Religion. Both Durkheim 1915 and Durkheim and Mauss 1963 (both cited under On Classification) engaged substantially with the theories of the foremost anthropologists of the time, and the evidence he (and Mauss) used to substantiate their arguments came from their reading of the leading ethnographers of the time. These and Durkheim’s other writings not only feature in anthropological reading lists for undergraduate courses dealing with the historical aspects of the discipline; they’ve remained important to contemporary theoretical debates about religion and society. The anthropological canon is produced principally through textbooks and reading lists for university courses in anthropology. The historian of anthropology George Stocking Jr. in Stocking 1995 has written a comprehensive history of the British tradition for which Durkheim was a key interlocutor, while Adam Kuper’s account delineates Durkheim’s influence on the “British School” of anthropology (Kuper 1993). In the early 21st century undergraduate textbooks recapitulating anthropological theory and particularly anthropological theories of religion typically include chapters summarizing the key aspects of Durkheim’s contribution and their continuing relevance, although there has been a tendency to reduce Durkheim’s complex theoretical legacy to the definition of religion and the solidarity-inducing functions of ritual, neglecting the work with Mauss On Classification and the importance (in Durkheim 1915, cited under On Classification and On Religion) of emotion and the nonrational to the constitution of the social.

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