Reappraising Durkheim for the Study and Teaching of Religion

William E. Paden

in The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Religion

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780199588961
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology

 Reappraising Durkheim for the Study and Teaching of Religion

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This article focuses primarily on ways in which some of Emile Durkheim's ideas on religion have been, and can be developed, particularly his central category of sacrality. The factor of the ‘sacred’ continues to be observable wherever group identities are challenged and put at stake, as in conflicts over ethnic and national autonomy, in loyalty to tribes and sects, in human-rights issues, and in domestic wars over such things as the inviolability of human embryos, marriage, and traditional gendered classifications. Whereas Durkheim thought that his elementary forms encompassed the whole of religion, today one is more methodologically circumspect and is more likely to take structural types as addressing aspects of a phenomenon and not whole or total entities. The article concludes with a discussion of the relevance of the sciences of evolutionary sociality for reappraising Durkheimian ideas of the social formations of religious behavior.

Keywords: Emile Durkheim; religious behavior; evolutionary sociality; ethnic autonomy; group identities

Article.  7217 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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