Introducing Durkheim

Jonathan Z. Smith

in Teaching Durkheim

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195165272
Published online February 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780199784554 | DOI:

Series: AAR Teaching Religious Studies Series

 Introducing Durkheim

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This chapter begins with a discussion on the different ways of introducing Durkheim to college students. It presents four rules: the first rule is to always begin with the question of definition. Before opening Elementary Forms, after discussing the logic and forms of definition, it is useful to take time in class to have the students write out their definitions of terms such as religion, sacred/profane, and church and, later, to have them rewrite their definitions in light of Durkheim's definitions, accounting for each revision with specific reference to Durkheim's counterintuitive proposals. The second rule of introducing Durkheim insists on the importance of making arguments explicit. The third rule of introducing Durkheim is that nothing must stand alone, with the idea that comparison opens up space for criticism. The fourth rule states that that students should be asked to demonstrate their mastery of Durkheim by exhibiting a capacity to “play” with the argument, applying it to an example quite different from the Australian aboriginal data on which Elementary Forms is based.

Keywords: college students; definition; argument; Elementary Forms; teaching

Chapter.  4610 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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