On Prayer

On Prayer

On Prayer

On Prayer

Synopsis

Having taken over the leadership of the French school of sociology after the death of his uncle, Emile Durkheim, in 1917, Mauss, celebrated author of The Gift, re-launched the flagship journal, the Année sociologique. Here are two of Mauss's most significant statements on the social sciences. The first, written with Fauconnet, outlines the methodological orientations of the school. The second examines the internal organization of sociology as a division of intellectual labor. The essays are of interest to anthropologists as well as sociologists for Mauss, like Durkheim, did not distinguish in detail the two disciplines.

Excerpt

It is a remarkable fact that prayer as a subject on its own has scarcely been studied by anthropologists, let alone by sociologists. Mauss's work on the subject makes him one of the few scholars with anthropological interests who have tackled it. In this, as in other ways, he stands out as a pioneer.

Marcel Mauss, born in 1872, was the nephew of Emile Durkheim (1858–1917). As the founder in France of sociology as a university discipline in the late nineteenth century, Durkheim's later influence spread far and wide. Both men were born in Epinal in Lorraine and both were agnostic, with a deeprooted Jewish family background. Further, they shared a common and sensitive interest in religion (Pickering 1984; 1998). This is apparent not least in this little-known but important study Mauss made of prayer, which is translated here into English for the first time.

Mauss's work on prayer was to have constituted a doctoral thesis. However, the completing of theses was something of a bête noire to him. While he was at Bordeaux University, finishing his agrégation in philosophy under the patriarchal eye of his uncle, he had decided that when he went to Paris to study for a doctorate, his minor thesis — his Latin thesis — would be on Spinoza, the philosopher of Jewish origin, and his relation to Leo the Hebrew (Mauss 1979). In fact when he came to Paris in 1895 with this in mind, he abandoned it two years later, having met a M. Couchoud who seems to have undermined his resolve (ibid.). For some time before, Mauss had decided to study philology, including Semitic languages and religion, in the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Vth section, which had as its aim the scientific study of religion—les sciences religieuses. Optimistically he thought that here he could write his major thesis, which was at first called ‘Sur les Origines de la prière’, in the matter of a . . .

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