Durkheim’s Sociology of Religion: Themes and Theories

By W.S.F. Pickering

The definitive guide to the French sociologist’s theories on religion, which helped establish sociology of religion as a discipline.

ISBN: 9780227172971


Religion is central to Durkheim’s theory of society, and his work laid most of the foundations of the sociology of religion. Daring and brilliant though his analysis was, its bold claims and questionable premises has made it the subject of ongoing academic debate. Durkheim’s work on the subject reached a peak with the publication in 1912 of what turned out to be a classic in its field, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life.

No other book has explained Durkheim’s views on religion using the whole corpus of his writings. Dr Pickering shows how Durkheim’s position developed and explains the themes and theories that run through Durkheim’s work. This includes Durkheim’s attitude towards secularisation and Christian churches, as well as his notion of the contemporary cult of the individual.

Additional information

Dimensions 216 × 140 mm
Pages 604

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

The Revd Dr William S.F. Pickering has been an Anglican priest since 1950, and for twenty years was a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He is currently the General Secretary of the British Centre for Durkheimian Studies, which he helped to found in 1991. It is based in the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oxford University.

He has written and edited a number of books on Durkheim and his followers, as well as many articles. Among his other publications are Sociology and Theology: Alliance and Conflict (Harvester Press, 1980), A Social History of the Diocese of Newcastle 1882-1982 (Oriel Press, 1981), The Hutterites (Ward Lock Educational, 1982) and Anglo-Catholicism: A Study in Religious Ambiguity, which has also been reprinted by James Clarke and Co Ltd.


References, Notations, Translations
Introductory Remarks

Part I: Historical Perspectives
1. Durkheim’s religious quest – I. Adolescent changes, family life and personal beliefs
2. Durkheim’s religious quest – II. In professional achievement
3. The development of Durkheim’s thought on religion – I. The early period
4. The development of Durkheim’s thought on religion – II. The middle period
5. The development of Durkheim’s thought on religion – III. The final formulation

Part II: Taking up Positions
6. Procedures and assumptions
7. The sacred and the profane: the ground of religion – I. Defining the two poles
8. The sacred and the profane: the ground of religion – II. The relations between them: further analysis
9. Commitment to a definition
10. The problem of the social and the individual in religion
11. ‘All religions are false: all religions are true’

Part III: Beliefs and Ideas
12. God’s identity revealed
13. Society: a divine being?
14. In the beginning: religion or society?
15. Représentations, symbols and reality
16. The functions of religion: a case of misunderstanding?

Part IV: Ritual and Effervescent Assembly
17. Ritual – I. Prolegomena
18. Ritual – II. Classification and function
19. Ritual – III. Its relation to la vie sérieuse
20. Ritual and myth: primacy or parity?
21. Effervescent assembly: the source of religious change and strength – I. The process
22. Effervescent assembly: the source of religious change and strength – II. Questions, criticisms and evaluation

Part V: Contemporary Religion
23. Durkheim’s attitude to traditional religions
24. Secularization: the history of mankind
25. The invasion of religion by science
26. The new religion: the cult of man or society?

Part VI: Postscript
27. Sociologie religieuse: a hope that quickly fades
28. Sociologie religieuse: a case of exaggerated claims?

Name index
Subject index


Endorsements and Reviews

Although the author excuses himself for not having covered certain aspects of the subject, this book of great erudition is the summation of all that one can know – or almost know – of Durkheim’s sociology of religion.
F.A. Isambert, in Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions

An excellent guide to Durkheim’s priorities.
John Griffiths, in The Tablet

Fair, circumspect, clear and exceptionally readable.
Anthony J. Blasi, in Sociological Analysis

The book represents a comprehensive analysis of Durkheim’s sociology of religion, which makes it a must-read for scholars and students of sociology and sociology of religion.
Margarita Simon Guillory, in Religious Studies Review, Vol 38, No 3

Durkheim’s works inspired by the scientific canons of sociological methodology, laid the foundation for the understanding of the multiple influences of community and society on individual behaviour and practices. Thus, it is understandable why it is exceptionally difficult to concentrate such a great legacy in a single study, which makes Dr Pickering’s work considerably consistent and unique.
Ramona Hosu, in Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, Vol 9, Issue 25