Emile Durkheim, 1858-1917: A Collection of Essays, with Translations and a Bibliography

By Emile Durkheim; Kurt H. Wolff | Go to book overview

THE DEVELOPMENT OF DURKHEIM'S CONCEPT OF RITUAL AND THE PROBLEM OF SOCIAL DISRELATIONSHIPS

HUGH DALZIEL DUNCAN

There are many unresolved problems in functional interpretations based on ritual. The whole concept of ritual is derived from a religious context. The work in sociology and economics of Fustel de Coulanges,1 W. Robertson Smith,2 Emile Durkheim,3 Bronislaw Malinowski,4 and A. R. Radcliffe-Brown,5 as well as that of Max Weber, Ernst Troeltsch, R. H. Tawney, and Joachim Wach, indicates how much social theory owes to the study of religious institutions. Jacob Burckhardt reminds us in his discussion of the reciprocal determination of society by religion, the state, and culture, that many rulers follow Francis Bacon's words, "Religion [is] the chief band of humane society."6 However, criticism of ritual concepts derived from religious experience must not commit the error of substituting the "reality" of the social bond for the "illusion" of the religious bond by asserting that what is said of religion is really what should be said to society, and following such an assertion with a description of societal bonds by means of analogies drawn from ritual moments in religious experience.

The development of Durkheim's conception of ritual by Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown (among others) indicates the vitality of his thought. Those interested in creating a theory or method based on symbolic function owe much to Durkheim for his emphasis on the social reality of symbols and the reciprocal relationships between forms of expression and society. In attempting to develop hypotheses which can be applied to the data of sociation as it occurs in and through communication, we find that Durkheim has already cleared paths which we should do well to explore. We are fortunate in having a collection of Radcliffe-Brown's papers which deal with problems attendant on the use of Durkheim's concepts.7

Since this paper is not an analytic description, or even a critique, of Durkheim's theory as such, but is rather concerned

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