Teaching Durkheim

Teaching Durkheim

Teaching Durkheim

Teaching Durkheim

Synopsis

Emile Durkheim's work on religion occupies a central place in religious studies classrooms today. At the undergraduate level, Durkheim is widely taught in large Introduction to Religion courses and in upper division seminars in "theory and method." His work is also taught in graduate Religious Studies departments of all stripes, from those grounded in the social sciences to those rooted in phenomenology and history of religions. This diverse classroom use within religious studies is reproduced in neighboring disciplines, where Durkheim's work on religion is regularly introduced in courses in sociology, anthropology, history, and philosophy, as well as in such interdisciplinary programs as Jewish studies and women's studies. This volume is designed as a resource for teachers and students of Durkheim on religion, providing practical advice about productive ways to approach central texts and difficult pedagogical issues. It represents diverse points of views and a range of disciplines. The essays in Part One address large issues arising from the whole of Durkheim's work on religion, such as what material to assign in what sorts of courses, and on how to present the material to students of varying background and motivation. Part Two turns to context, with essays assessing the available English translations of the Elementary Forms of Religious Life, and exploring how to teach the historical, critical, and biographical framework of Durkheim's work on religion. Part Three takes up questions of how to incorporate Durkheim's work in courses concerned with ethics, gender studies, and social theory.

Excerpt

In 1966, in “Religion as a Cultural System,” Clifford Geertz made the then-startling claim that we must count Emile Durkheim (1858– 1917) as belonging in the pantheon of “transcendent figures” in the study of religion. Today this claim strikes us as commonplace. One recent commentator notes that the 1980s and '90s witnessed “an unparalleled flourish in Durkheimian studies in Europe and in North America.” Others write of “Durkheim's Religious Revival.”

But while these forty years have cemented Durkheim's position within the arena of scholarship and research, his place in the classroom is not as secure. First, there are problems intrinsic to the writings themselves. For example, for all its brilliance, many teachers find The Elementary Forms of Religious Life too uneven and difficult for inclusion in introductory courses, and too lengthy and unwieldy to assign in upper division or even graduate semester-length courses in “theory and method.” Second, there are extrinsic factors, having to do with the development of the field of religious studies in the academy since the publication of Geertz's essay. Durkheim's basic claim that “religion is something eminently social” has too often been dismissed as “reductionistic,” both by those concerned to secure an institutional niche for autonomous religious studies departments and by those who would prefer the new field not stray too far from its theological roots. The result is that even today many students are more likely to read authors who are either extending Durkheim's basic program (for example, Robert Bellah, Peter Berger, Mary Douglas, Geertz, Erving Goffman, Victor Turner), or who are self-consciously inverting or rejecting one of its main tenets (for . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.