This article emphasizes the importance of the Dreyfus Affair in the manner in which Emile Durkheim approached the subject of anti-Semitism between 1897 and 1899, while the Affair was in full swing in France. Although Durkheim was the founder of positivist sociology, disconnected from preconceived notions, he nevertheless courageously entered the fight to defend Dreyfus, both as a scholar and as a Jew. In a series of articles and letters, he reflected on the causes of anti-Semitism and proposed an interpretation of Jews as scapegoats, because in his view society’s suffering was resolved by ostracizing Jews as pariahs. But this interpretation is unsatisfactory. Based on impressions rather than on a sociological analysis conducted in accordance with his Rules of Sociological Method, Durkheim’s analysis of explanatory variables is not convincing and is oriented around psychological considerations rarely seen elsewhere in his work.
Mark S. Cladis
The development of a science of morality, or what he called rational moral art (l’art moral rationnel), is one of Durkheim’s most ambitious endeavors. The very idea of rational art will strike many as an oxymoron. Yet it is precisely at the intersection, and within the tension, of these two terms—art and the rational—that we find Durkheim’s most mature efforts at establishing a science of morality. On the one hand, this science is rational insofar as it is attentive to the actual, lived social practices and institutions of humans in various cultures at various times. On the other hand, this science is a form of art insofar as it employs practical judgment and creativity as it seeks to move from the detailed studies of the social scientist to the reformist critique of social institutions and practices. In short, Durkheim recommended that sociologists join sociohistorical skill to the moral imagination.
Francois de Singly
Emile Durkheim’s first specialized course in Bordeaux (in 1888) was on the sociology of the family. Although his work on the topic is not his best known, and is often rather misunderstood, it is still quite interesting. Durkheim was able to perceive the two leading characteristics of the European family under the first modernity (from the 1850s through the 1960s): the personalization of ties and the increasing intervention of the state in family affairs. Understanding this change did not lead Durkheim to approve of it, however, and he worried about the weakening of rules and discipline within the family.
As religion has gained public and scholarly attention, sociologists have critically revised orthodox secularization theory. This article revisits Emile Durkheim’s sociologie religieuse and explores its potential and limitation for analyzing contemporary religious reconfigurations in the twenty-first century. First, it reviews how the “New Durkheim” as recovered by the recent historiography of classical sociology defined, explained, and assessed religion. It argues that Durkheim’s theory of the sacred, its relation to society, and its impact on morality and knowledge displays inherent tensions reflected in his quest for social bonds in secular society. Second, having acknowledged Durkheim’s ambivalent legacy in the sociology of religion and cultural sociology more broadly, the article shows that his theory of the sacred, while failing to grasp religio-political power configurations so central to the Weberian tradition, helps discern the persistence and production of collective religious forms in a global age, ranging from nationalisms to human rights.
W. Watts Miller
This article tracks key changes and continuities in Durkheim’s approach to the modern individual, beginning with the landscape of his thesis on the division of labor. A period of transition then helped to generate his increasing belief in the dynamics of creative effervescence, both as a foundation of an irreducibly social realm and as a way to tackle a modern crisis and get going processes of reform. He nonetheless never abandoned his commitment to the importance of social structures, as in his call for a web of new intermediate groups linking the individual with a wider society, or in his view of the division of labor as a source of modern ideals and route to combining autonomy and solidarity. He was also well aware that times of effervescent upsurge come with serious risks. Indeed, risk is built into the freedom and indeterminacy they entail.
Religion is on the rise again in the West and specifically “secular” Europe, mostly due to the influx of new religions via migration, new political conflicts, and the growing (re)assertion of the Christian heritage among domestic actors. This chapter discusses the extent to which religions provide an ideological component of the radical right, what kind of religion is at play, and whether and how religion can be used to explain the radical right’s successes. It looks at religion in the development and organizational profile of major radical right actors, explores the relevance of religion in the far right, and places the radical right trajectory into a larger context of societal and political change. It concludes that religion functions as a relevant context factor and frame for political mobilization, even in secularized societies, against the perceived threat of rapid sociocultural change and its (alleged) agents and protagonists.
The Sociality of Mind: Key Arguments, Inner Tensions, and Divergent Appropriations of Durkheim’s Sociology of Knowledge
Ever since Durkheim, the question of the sociality of mind has remained both contentious and fruitful. This article discusses the Durkheimian contribution to the sociology of knowledge in three steps. First, by drawing on Durkheim and Mauss’s “Primitive Classification” (1903) and on Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912), two key arguments of the Durkheimian sociology of knowledge will be distinguished. Second, it is argued that the differences between these two key contributions reverberate through the reception of Durkheim’s sociology of knowledge, resulting in two quite different lines of reception: one that focuses on classificatory homologies (Lévi-Strauss, Bourdieu, Boltanski) and one that focuses on ritual, the sacred, and the emergence of nonordinary realities (Bellah, Joas). Finally, the continuing provocative force of Durkheim’s sociology of knowledge is explained by systematizing the various tensions within Durkheim’s arguments as well as within and between its appropriations.