Mantras and Spells

Durkheim and Mauss, Religious Speech and Tantric Buddhism

in Volume 9 (2003): Issue 1 (Dec 2003)
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This article, located within the sociology of religion, aims to demonstrate ways in which the insights of Durkheim and Mauss can be applied to the study of tantric Buddhism. In order to do so it explores a specific theme, the significance of speech in religion. I will therefore begin with sections from the recent translation of Mauss's thesis on prayer, highlighting two essential propositions (1909/t.2003). Firstly, Mauss argues that prayer is an extremely diverse phenomenon, which can take a variety of forms. A second, related point is his suggestion that speech is particularly important to our understanding of religion, because it is related to both belief and action. It is this second idea that I will explore extensively in the context of tantric Buddhism because it illuminates a number of features of this religious tradition. In addition, these reflections may contribute to a broader debate, concerning the role of collective representations in the thought of both Durkheim and Mauss.