Durkheim’s Two Theories of Sacrifice

Ritual, Social Change and Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse

in Durkheimian Studies
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The article begins by examining Durkheim’s editorial role in the creation of Hubert and Mauss’s essay on sacrifice, published in his new journal, the Année sociologique, in 1899. It then brings out how, in Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse, Durkheim operated both with an ‘official’ and a more or less ‘hidden’ theory of sacrifice, the first based on the approach in Hubert and Mauss’s essay, the second rooted in Durkheim’s earlier views and critical editorial comments on Hubert and Mauss’s ideas. In the process it brings out, through a detailed analysis of the work’s chapters specifically on sacrifice but also on piacular rites, tensions, ambiguities and cross-purposes in the work as a whole. These especially turn round Durkheim’s approach to violence and to the sacrificial offering or gift, and are also evident in his concern with different types of effervescence, the foundational and commemorative, as well as the ‘joyous’ and piacular. The article concludes by linking these tensions with issues at stake in Durkheim’s interest in the French Revolution and account of the role of effervescence in moments of rupture and fundamental social change.

Durkheimian Studies

Études Durkheimiennes