From India to Australia and Back Again

An Alternative Genealogy of The Elementary Forms of Religious Life

in Durkheimian Studies
Author:
Sondra L. Hausner University of Oxford

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Abstract

This article argues that, although we think of Australian tribal ritual as Durkheim's source material for his masterwork The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, we must also consider the extensive Indological scholarship on which he draws – and with which he debates – as critical inspirations for the text. His extensive engagement with his nephew, Marcel Mauss, whose earlier work, Sacrifice, with Henri Hubert, was premised on an analysis of Vedic ritual, would have been one source for his study of religion writ large; Elementary Forms also takes up in detail the work of Max Müller, among other Indologists, whose work was well known and widely engaged with in the French and broader European intellectual context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This article argues that the Indological comparative lens was key to Durkheim's own approach as he worked to articulate the relationship between religion and society; in contrast to the philologists, he argued for the primacy of practice over language in ritual action.

Contributor Notes

Sondra L. Hausner is Professor of Anthropology of Religion at the University of Oxford. She is the author of Wandering with Sadhus: Ascetics in the Hindu Himalayas (2007) and The Spirits of Crossbones Graveyard: Time, Ritual, and Sexual Commerce in London (2016), as well as the editor of Durkheim in Dialogue: A Centenary Celebration of The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (2013). She has published widely on religion and ritual; the religion and society of South Asia; the dynamics of diaspora religion and globalisation; feminist theory; and Durkheimian thought. She has been the Director of the British Centre for Durkheimian Studies since 2017.

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Durkheimian Studies

Études Durkheimiennes

  • Allen, N. J. 2013. ‘Durkheim's Sacred/Profane Opposition: What Should We Make of It?’ In Sondra L. Hausner (ed.), Durkheim in Dialogue: A Centenary Celebration of The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 109123.

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  • Allen, N. J. 2014. Mauss, India, and Perspectives from world history. Journal of Classical Sociology 14 (1): 2233. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468795X13494715

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  • Durkheim, É. [1895] 1987. Les Règles de la Méthode Sociologique. 23rd ed. Paris: Presses Universitaire de France.

  • Durkheim, É. [1912] 1995. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Trans. Karen E. Fields. New York: The Free Press.

  • Durkheim, É. and M. Mauss. [1903] 1963. ‘De quelques forms primitives de classification’. Année Sociologique 6: 172.

  • Frazer, J. G. [1890] 1922. The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion. 2 vols. London: Macmillan.

  • Hausner, S. L. (ed.). 2013. Durkheim in Dialogue: A Centenary Celebration of The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

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  • Hausner, S. L. Forthcoming. ‘The Comparative Anthropology of Religion, or the Anthropology of Religion Compared: A Critical Comment’. Social Anthropology. Special Issue on ‘Crossing Religious and Theoretical Boundaries: The Case for Comparative Analyses’, Ammara Maqsood, Leslie Fesenmeyer, and Giulia Liberatore (eds.).

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  • Hubert, H. and M. Mauss. [1899] 1964. Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Masuzawa, T. 2005. The Invention of World Religions, or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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  • Müller, F. M. 1892. Natural Religion: The Gifford Lectures Delivered before the University of Glasgow in 1888. London: Longman Green.

  • Stedman Jones, S. 2013. ‘Durkheim, Anthropology and the Question of the Categories in Les Formes Élémentaires de la Vie Religieuse’. In Sondra L. Hausner (ed.), Durkheim in Dialogue: A Centenary Celebration of The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 143164.

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