Paul-François Tremlett

in The Oxford Handbook of the Study of Religion

Published in print November 2016 | ISBN: 9780198729570
Published online June 2017 | e-ISBN: 9780191796449 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks


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This chapter suggests that structuralism and poststructuralism should be understood as part of a ‘turn’ in social theory and philosophy to ‘systems.’ It explores Claude Lévi-Strauss’s approach to myth, demonstrating that his approach entwines elements from linguistics and dynamic systems theory that point ‘back’ to formalism and ‘forward’ to poststructuralism. It then examines Lévi-Strauss’s critique of evolutionist and functionalist accounts of ‘primitive’ religion and his engagements with work by Frazer and Malinowski. The chapter shows the extent to which Lévi-Strauss’s approach undermined notions of progress and accounts of the regulatory role of religion in the closed social system described by functionalism. The chapter then moves on to explore Jacques Derrida’s account of language and deconstruction and the critique of the metaphysics of presence, suggesting that deconstruction also privileges the idea of the open system. This is shown to have significant implications for textual, historical, and sociological studies of religion.

Keywords: bricolage; deconstruction; dynamic systems theory; evolutionism; functionalism; Claude Lévi-Strauss; myth; poststructuralism; structuralism

Article.  6518 words. 

Subjects: History of Religion

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