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2003 3: 99Journal of Classical SociologySue Stedman JONES
From Varieties to Elementary Forms: Emile Durkheim on Religious Life
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From Varieties to Elementary FormsWilliam James and Emile Durkheim on Religious Life
SUE STEDMAN JONES London
ABSTRACT This article traces the relation between the thought of William Jamesand that of Emile Durkheim with regard to religious experience. It shows thecomplexity of Durkheims relationship to pragmatism and his response to it bothas an admirer and as a critic of James, and centres on a close examination ofJamess Varieties of Religious Experience and how aspects of this are woven intothe development of Durkheims argument in The Elementary Forms of ReligiousLife. The focus of the article is on the logic of Durkheims view of religious realityand how James influenced this. It traces the common philosophical ancestor ofboth James and Durkheim and raises question about the appropriate method-ology for the study of religion.
KEYWORDS action, belief, pragmatism, rationalism, religious experience,representation
William Jamess Varieties of Religious Experience (1935 ) (hereafter calledVarieties) and Emile Durkheims The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1995) (hereafter called Elementary Forms) are classic, indeed, foundational,studies of religion. Both thinkers were innovators (Hughes, 1974 : 284);whilst one focuses on the psychology and philosophy of religious experience, theapproach of the other uses history and sociology, and stresses the understandingof religion through the ethnography of early institutions. Even though James washeld as the father of the American psychology of religion, he did not found aschool; his nomadic style of mind, together with his magnificent tentativeness,did not support theoretical work as an accumulated scientific corpus with an eyeon future research (Dittes, 1973: 315, 293). Durkheim, however, spoke as theleader of the French school of sociology, establishing theoretical guidelines forresearch. Do they not thus constitute polar opposites in their approach to
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religious life, and, as such, must they not be starkly contrasted, rather thancompared? Whilst the one stresses the authority of inner personal experience, theother stresses communal and ritual action and the importance of the group toreligious life. Although both equally important, these constitute quite distinct anddifferent claims. But this sharp contrast must be modified if we give closerattention to both Jamess and Durkheims account of the nature of religiousexperience and to the logic of human reality.
It will become clear that in significant ways, Durkheim was responding topragmatism the most negative aspect of this is seen in his lectures of 1913,Pragmatism and Sociology (1955). But attack is not Durkheims only approach. Itwill be clear that his Elementary Forms is not only partly an attack on James, butalso a response to him, and makes a significant use of some of his central ideas.Jamess work was translated into French by the Durkheimian F. Abauzit in 1906and was a resounding success. James, who enjoyed huge prestige on the Europeancontinent, had a great influence after the turn of the 20th century and shared acult of admiration with Bergson (Hughes, 1974 : 112). Indeed thepublication of Varieties and particularly his Pragmatism (1928 ) contrib-uted to turning the tide against continental rationalism for, as Hughes shows,James made things seem simple, direct and unequivocal on the intellectualhorizon, because now there was no need to break ones head over kantianmetaphysics and teutonic hair splitting (1974 : 112).
Durkheim, as we know, said that the only label he would accept was that ofrationalist (1982a : 33). Pragmatism attacked the old rationalism, and inthis Durkheim was partly in agreement and partly in disagreement; this is clearin his Pragmatism and Sociology (1955). Part of his attack on pragmatism in theselectures was against what he castigates as its anti-intellectualist impulses throughits attack on pure speculation and theoretical thought, particularlythrough Jamess ambition of unstarching (deraidir) the concept of truth, whichDurkheim insists must stay rigid (1955: 137). Whilst he insists that there is anabyss between his rationalism and the mystical empiricism of pragmatism,Durkheims relation with pragmatism is more complicated. I will not dwell onthe links I can maintain with pragmatism (1975b : 39). It is closer thanmight be suggested by his disagreements with James over the nature of truth. It isclear that Durkheim had wide acquaintance with the works of Dewey, Schiller andPeirce, although he regards James as the real father of pragmatism (1955: 36). Itis also clear from the Elementary Forms that Durkheim had read not only JamessVarieties but also his Principles of Psychology (1988 ) (1995 : 618).
But what was distinctive about Jamess Varieties that it was and continuesto be acknowledged as a masterpiece? Certainly one of its features is thecontemporary spirit of its approach secularism, pluralism, existentialism, and itssearch for authenticity (Dittes, 1973: 295).
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William Jamess View of Religious ExperienceJamess Varieties was originally given as the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religionat Edinburgh University in 19012. It is a descriptive survey of religiouspropensities (1935 : 2). His accounts of The Religion of HealthyMindedness, with its description of the religiously optimistic first born and ofThe Sick Soul as the second born, that is, those who come to faith throughtorment and despair, together with his account of The Divided Self, ofConversion, Saintliness and Mysticism, are justly memorable. These chaptersof his books divided according to the titles of the original lectures are centralfeatures of the religious life. Religious feelings and impulses and not institutionsare its subject, and James uses human documents that reveal subjective phe-nomena, recorded in literature by articulate and fully self conscious men, in worksof piety and autobiography. (He should here have included women, since StTheresa features strongly in his work.) He uses personal confession as his meansto get to the essence of religious experience (1935 : 3).
To determine the nature of religious propensities, James argues that thequestion of their philosophical significance is of a logically different type fromthose that concern their nature . . . constitution, origin and history. The latterare types of existential judgement, whilst questions about importance, meaningand significance are value judgements, or, as he calls them, spiritual judgements(1935 : 4). The former, he insists, are insufficient for determining thelatter, and stresses that he will not use the existential approach to discreditthe religious life. Thus he will not undermine, however isolated and rarelyfelt, the sense of inner authority and illumination of certain religious states(1935 : 16), or engage in undoing spiritual value by establishing lowlyorigins (1935 : 10). In particular, he rejects medical materialism, whichwould account for St Pauls vision on the road to Damascus as a lesion on theoccipital cortex, or treat St Theresa as an hysteric (1935 : 13). The value ofsuch experiences can only be ascertained by spiritual judgements that concern theimmediate luminousness that is the philosophical reasonableness and moralhelpfulness of these unique experiences (1935 : 18). Nevertheless, Jamesuses an empirical criterion which he opposes to dogmatic philosophy as tothe significance of religion, and this is the way in which it works on the whole(1935 : 18). He cites St Theresas renewal of strength (1935 : 21)and Tolstoys overcoming of melancholy and his renewed will to live; the value ofreligion is known by its fruits. This is a pragmatic evaluation of religion; its valueis not determined by origins but lies in its effects in practice.
James claims to talk neither as a theologian nor as an anthropologist, butas a psychologist (1935 : 2). His Varieties was written later than hisPrinciples of Psychology (1988 ), and, in significant ways, relies on this. Hisview of psychology as the science of mental life (1988 : 1) includes,
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beside the functions of the brain and brain activity, the study of habit, theconscious self, attention, imagination and memory, the will, emotions, and beliefand its relation to the perception of reality. It covers much that would be classifiedas epistemology or theory of mind in 20th-century philosophy. Significantly, itincludes a kind of phenomenalism what we might now call a phenomenology of conscious experience. This underwrites the testimony of religious conscious-ness that is the theoretical backbone of Jamess Varieties.
James opposes any form of behaviourist reductionism of consciousness.He does not support the reduction of the mind to the brain as in 20th-centurybehaviourist psychology. Consciousness, for James, although correlated with thebrain, is not a brain process per se (Flannagan, 1997: 22). His rejection ofepiphenomenalism (that mental states are simply the by-product of physicalconditions) in his Principles is echoed by his rejection of medical materialism inVarieties. Both are necessary for allowing for the testimony of consciousness andthe authenticity of its personal experience in religion. James holds that thoughtsand feelings exist and are vehicles of knowledge (1988 : xiii). In hisanalysis of the stream of thought (which later became the stream of conscious-ness), he treats thought as cognitive: It possesses the function of knowing (1988: 176). He distinguishes between two fundamental kinds of knowledge(1988 : 144) what Bertrand Russell would later call knowledge byacquaintance and knowledge by description (1963 : 152). It is clearthat religious experience is a kind of knowledge by acquaintance. This furtherstrengthens the logical background to Jamess claim about the truth of religiousexperience, which for him is shown in mystical experience.
James defines religion as the feelings, acts and experiences of individualmen in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation towhatever they may consider the divine (1935 : 31). He argues that thedivine should not be taken too narrowly, for many religions do not have a God; hecites Buddhism, together with contemporary transcendental idealism and Emer-sonianism, which lets God evaporate into abstract ideality, into the spiritualstructure of the universe (1935 : 32).
A belief in the reality of the unseen is implied in all religion. Kant, saysJames, acknowledged this strange phenomenon of the mind believing with all itsstrength in the real presence of a set of things of no one of which it can form anynotion whatsoever (1935 : 55). Religious beliefs are thus over-beliefs(1935 : 513). Despite the lack of definite description there is a sentimentof reality that is attached to these objects of belief. Religious experience testifiesto something larger than ourselves (1935 : 525). Kants ideas of moraltheology, although for James an uncouth part of his philosophy, indicate what iscentral to religion: that the sentiment of reality can indeed attach itself sostrongly to our object of belief that our whole life is polarized through andthrough . . . by its sense of the existence of the thing believed in (1935 :55). The determinability of our mind by abstractions that are polarizing and
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magnetizing is one of the cardinal facts of our human constitution. . . . We seekthem, hold them, bless them . . . and beings they are, beings as real in the realmthey inhabit as the changing things of sense are in the realm of space (1935: 567).
So, in its relation to divinity,
. . . there is in human consciousness a sense of reality, a feeling of objectivepresence, a perception of what men call something there more deep andmore general than any of the special and particular senses by which thecurrent psychology supposes existent realities to be originally revealed.
(1935 : 58)
This reality feeling is tied to human ontological imagination, which is crucial inpicturing beings that determine our vital attitude (1935 : 72).
It is in terms of this general sense of the divine that James begins his searchfor the definition of the godlike. Gods are conceived to be first things in the wayof being and power (1935 : 34). They are an ideal power (1935 :524). The way in which we stand to the divine shows what, for James, is a centralfeature of religion: our attitude to the deity is primal and enveloping. Religionis mans total reaction to life, and to get at these total reactions one has to gobehind the foreground of existence and reach down to that curious sense of thewhole residual cosmos as an everlasting presence (1935 : 35). Thisdiscussion of mysticism is for Dittes (1973: 304) the climactic phase of theVarieties.
Can mystical experience furnish any warrant of truth? Jamess famousanswer is that mystical states have the right to be absolutely authoritative forthe individuals who experience them, and they break down the authority of thenon-mystical or rationalistic consciousness, based upon the understanding and thesenses alone (1935 : 423).
The essence of religion must be that element or quality which we canmeet nowhere else. This, for James, is its emotional dynamism demonstrated inits energetic states (1935 : 45). Christianity shows the excitement of ahigher kind of emotion (1935 : 46).
Religious feeling is thus an absolute addition to the subjects range of life.It gives him a new sphere of power. . . . If religion is to mean anythingdefinite for us, it seems to me that we ought to take it as meaning thisadded dimension of emotion, this enthusiastic temper of espousal.
(1935 : 48)
Religion is an essential organ of our life, performing a function which no otherportion of our nature can so successfully fulfill (1935 : 52), for it makesthe surrender and sacrifice implied in our dependence on the universe something
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that can be positively espoused. Religion thus makes easy and felicitous what inany case is necessary (1935 : 51).
Tolstoy said about his recovery from despair through faith, If man did notbelieve that he must live for something, he would not live at all (cited in James,1935 : 184). James stresses this idea of that by which men live and calls ita a stimulus, an excitement, a faith, a force that re-infuses the positive willingnessto live (1935 : 187). This belief, which he calls a will to believe (1935: 212), fires up the dynamic energy of the soul (understood, he says, in aBuddhist or Humean sense). Thus, in the relation between a believer and his orher God, there is a subject and object relation that James made central toknowledge (1988 : 141). This is dynamic for the believer; the hot part ofmans consciousness is the habitual centre of his personal energy (1935:196). This faith state is the central force by which men live and is centralto what James calls the dynamogenic character of religion that is, it freshensour vital powers (1935 : 505). And the hot part of the soul is central tothe motor efficacy of religion in its relation to action.
James, together with other pragmatists, stresses practice as the test for thevalue of belief (1935 : 18). A belief in God or immortality has no sensecontent whatsoever, so theoretically they are words devoid of significance (1935: 55). Religious beliefs are thus always over-beliefs for James. But theyhave a definite meaning for our practice (1935 : 55). And this is tied to lifeand the question of living. The religious question is primarily a question of life, ofliving or not living (1935 : 514).
The Significance of Jamess ApproachWhat is the significance and originality of Jamess approach? At a period whenpositivism was still a powerful current of thought, James argued that religion isnot simply a mere survival or an atavistic reversion (1935 : 118). Hepaved the way for scientific research by taking religious phenomena as author-itative and important in their own right (Dittes, 1973: 296). Yet he raises constantobjections about capturing these in the name of science (Dittes, 1973: 296).Equally, he distanced religion from theology, and stressed the importance oftransforming theology into a science of religions, to which his own work mightmake a crumb-like contribution (1935 : 433). This science could dealwith hypotheses based on personal experience (1935 : 4556), whichmight sift out a common body of doctrine (1935 : 510), and establishwhether there is a common nucleus of religion (1935 : 507).
In his attack on dogmatic theology James defends experience againstphilosophy as being the real backbone of the worlds religious life (quoted inPerry, 1996 : 257). Religion reveals a distinctive experience that is not theby-product of something else; James rejects materialist, reductive explanations that is, explanations that undercut the authority of this unique experience. And he
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raised the question of the truth of this unique experience, outside of theology, andmade this central to consciousness and its objects that is, to the subjectobjectrelation.
Further, he defends the authority of this experience from theology,particularly dogmatic rationalist theology with its abstract definitions and systemsof logically concatenated adjectives (Perry, 1996 : 255). These are merelyafter-effects or secondary accretions and not what sustains religion. In otherwords, James pointed to the sui generis experience of religion, and distanced thisfrom both theology and positivism, whilst supporting the idea of science ofreligions. In like manner, he opposed the liberal clergy of his day for ignoring thegreat historical phenomenon of religion (Perry, 1996 : 259).
Support for the authority of this sui generis experience is part and parcel ofJamess attack on dogmatic philosophies that postulate reason as authoritativeover personal experience and the passion and emotion felt by the common man orwoman. Religion is more primordial than reason and of equal authority. SoJames reminded a sceptical student that faith branches off from the high roadbefore reason begins. Faith is testimony to a less articulate and more profoundpart of our nature than the superficial, explicit or loquacious part (quoted inPerry, 1996 : 257). He shows the passionate role of belief that stems fromthis deep, inarticulate side of our selves, which is in conflict with the life ofarticulate reason and which cannot be overridden by it. The power of belief isshown in religion. Remember that the whole point lies in really believing thatthrough a certain point or part in you coalesce and are identical with the Eternal.This seems to be the saving belief both in Christianity and Vedantism (quoted inPerry, 1996 : 259). The happiness that achieved religious belief confers(James, 1935 : 24) is proof of the pragmatic test of belief by fruits yeshall know them, not by their roots (James, 1935 : 20). Practice is thefruit by which religion can be judged (James, 1935 : 18).
This stress on passionate belief also shows the connection of religion withaction. It is no accident that, as Perry shows, James wrote Varieties after a longperiod working on practical philosophy. Citing Peirce, James argues that beliefsare rules for action; and the whole function of thinking is but one step in theproduction of active habits (1935 : 444). He criticizes continentalschools of philosophy for overlooking the organic connection between thoughtand conduct (1935 : 442). The motor efficacy of belief is tied to the hotplace of the soul (1935 : 197) and is connected with the will to believe.James stresses the energy that faith engenders (1935 : 517). In his articleThe Will to Believe (1907 : 3) he argues for the connection between beliefand our willingness to act, but he also describes the passional and volitionalnature of belief and how this enters into the constitution of authority.
Further, through the question James set himself of the value and meaningof religion . . . in the mental life and destiny of man (quoted in Perry, 1996: 253), he argued that although the special manifestations of religion may
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be absurd, yet the life of it as a whole is mankinds most important function(quoted in Perry, 1996 : 257). He shows that religion is central to humanlife and to the question of whether it can be undertaken with optimism and withenergy. Indeed religion is uniquely concerned with the question of whether life isworth living. This is particulary clear in Jamess treatment of Tolstoys crisis andrecovery through the idea of God: he is there: he without whom one cannot live.To acknowledge God and to live are one and the same thing (quoted in Perry,1996 : 185). This demonstrates not only the real function of religion, butalso the common nucleus underlying the discrepancies of creeds (Perry, 1996: 507). Religion is the very inner citadel of human life (James, quoted inPerry, 1996 : 259). He quotes the theologian Leuba: God is not known,he is not understood, he is used. The end of religion is Not God, but life, morelife more satisfying life. The love of life . . . is the religious impulse (James, 1935: 507). So the religious question is primarily a question of life, of living ornot living (1935 : 514)
James was highly catholic in his search for authentic religious experience;he accepts as religious any form of piety whatsoever that carries with it a sense ofsalvation (Perry, 1996 : 260). He examined the work of the 11th-centurySufi Al-Ghazzali, together with Bunyan, St John of the Cross, the Greeks, theStoics and Goethe. To get first-hand accounts of religious experience, he tookthe testimony of mystics, cranks and inspired but lowly people an unfamiliarworld of feeling and vivid experience ignored by academics (Myers, 1986: 464).In so doing he was accused of slumming by Santayana; James neverthelesslaughed at the latters white marble mind (quoted in Myers, 1986: 462).
Jamess approach to the idea of divinity and therefore to the idea of Godwas also significant. As we have seen, he argued that divinity must be consideredwidely. He showed that gods have an intrinsic connection with human conscious-ness, and he stressed the human character of these. The Gods we stand by are theGods we need and can use (1935 : 331). And he showed how the idea ofGod is altered by secularization (1935 : 328). The principle of pragmatismmust be applied to the attributes of God; in other words, the functional point ofreligion must be tied to action and its consequences. He identifies gods as idealpowers with which the believer is in connection (1935 : 524). Gods areconnected with ideal impulses which originate in altogether other dimensions ofexistence from the sensible and the merely understandable world (1935 :516), and the path to them is not by reason but by passionate faith: Ratiocinationis a relatively superficial and unreal path to the deity (1935 : 448).
Institutions versus Personal Experience?James proposes to ignore the institutional branch of religion entirely and toconfine himself to that which lives itself out within the private breast (1935: 335); that is, personal religion pure and simple (1935 : 29). And
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the pivot of religion is the interest of the individuals in his private personaldestiny. Religion in short is a monumental chapter in the history of humanegotism (1935 : 491). Nevertheless, James stresses that religious experi-ence . . . spontaneously and inevitably engenders myths, superstitions, dogmasand creeds (1935 : 433). Of course, while Durkheim stresses the cohesivefunction of communal rites, James, on the contrary, stresses the importance of thedistinction between religion as a personal function and as an institutional,corporate/tribal function. The purely interior life that is the exclusive object ofhis study, James argues, must never be confused with tribal or corporatepsychology (1935 : 338). He dislikes the tribal instinct, for even if itwears a mask of piety, it conceals the inborn hatred of the alien and of eccentricand non-conforming (1935 : 338). He offers an explanation of religiousorigins in inspiration and its gradual institutionalization. First-handreligious feeling enters the world naked and lonely. The Buddha, Christ andMuhammad were driven on into the wilderness to search for their originalinspiration. There is here a heretical sort of innovation that is heterodox at first,which, if it survives, becomes orthodoxy by contagion (1935 : 335).
Religious geniuses attract disciples, and produce groups of sympathizers.When these groups get strong enough to organize themselves, theybecome ecclesiastical institutions with corporate ambitions of their own.The spirit of politics and the lust of dogmatic rule are then apt to enter andto contaminate the originally innocent thing. . . .
(1935 : 334)
Now, of course, for Durkheim, the fact that religious beliefs are alwaysshared by a definite group which professes them and that practices the corre-sponding rite (1995 : 41) is the definitive feature of religion and thestarting point of his sociology of religion. His central criticism of Jamesstreatment of religion in his lectures on pragmatism is the exclusion of institutionsand churches (1955: 130). He also argues that Jamess criteria of religion arearbitrary, and he criticizes his stress on the interiority of conscience (1955: 130).In the Elementary Forms he argues that to claim that religion is born in individualconsciousness is equivalent to claiming that the individual totem came beforethe clan totem (1995 : 175). He criticizes James for downgrading theinstitutional and treating religion as a current of life that cannot be fixed withoutbeing falsified (1955: 130). Religion is an important test case for Durkheimscritique of pragmatism, for, as he shows, despite its stress on results andexperience, the applications of pragmatism to specific problems are rare,and religion is the exception (1955: 129).
Durkheim is theoretically opposed to pragmatism in its view of theory andof truth. Nor will he accept either the personal testimony of individual conscious-ness as the source of knowledge of religion, or the unique authority of the
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mystics experience. But, like James, he argues for a science of religions in hisElementary Forms (1995 : 66), and, as we know from The Rules ofSociological Method, his science is not constructed in the spirit of positivistmetaphysics (1982a : 33). This must confound Parsonss characterizationof the later Durkheim as an idealist (1937: 307). Durkheim, like James, isconcerned with understanding the religious nature of man, but he uses a veryarchaic religion to thus reveal a fundamental and permanent aspect of humanity(1995 : 1). Like James, he is concerned in some sense with the universalmeaning of religion, which is revealed by experience. But while James stressespersonal individual experience, Durkheim focuses on collective experience and itsinstitutional force as mediated by believers; much will depend what counts asexperience for each of them. James stresses the real diversity of religions andcreeds (1935 : 490). So also for Durkheim there is real diversity ofreligious experience under which lies a nucleus that constitutes its kernel; this isfound in its fundamental representations and ritual attitudes (1995 : 4).
For Durkheim, religions also all fulfil given conditions of human exist-ence; like James, he holds religion to be uniquely human (1995 : 2).Although some are more complex, all are equally religious . . . [for] they fulfil thesame needs, play the same role, proceed from the same causes (1995 :23). And again like James, he believes the nucleus that underlines the diversity ofcreeds also relates to our needy nature: the real core of the religion for James isthe search for help (Dittes, 1973: 303).
Religion and the Question of TruthLike James, Durkheim is not engaged on a war on religion. This, for Hughes, isthe way in which their approaches can be compared (1974 : 284).Durkheim, although not a believer, defends the authenticity of religious experi-ence against the sceptical attack of 19th-century freethinkers who would reduce itto an illusion, just as much as he takes it out of the hands of the theologians.Similarly to James, he argues that there is a truth that religion expresses: allreligions are true in their fashion (1995 : 2). He explicitly acknowledgeshis debt to James on this point:
This entire study rest on the postulate that the unanimous feeling ofbelievers down the ages cannot be mere illusion. Therefore like a recentapologist of faith, I accept that religious belief rest on a definite experi-ence, whose demonstrative value is, in a sense, not inferior to that ofscientific experiments, though it is different.
(1995 : 420)
Of course, the truth he acknowledges here is social, institutional.Although he sympathized with James for showing that truth is a human truth,
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moving and changing (Cuvillier in Durkheim, 1955: 18), nevertheless he arguedthat lived experience is not subjective or simply internal, but is collective andhistorical. For Cuvillier, what Durkheim retained from pragmatism is thatthought is creator of truth, but the way in which pragmatism interpreted thismade it arbitrarily variable and stripped it of all objectivity. It is a fundamentalpostulate of sociology that a human institution cannot rest upon error andfalsehood. . . . [Religion] is grounded in and expresses the real (Durkheim, 1995: 2). Beneath the symbols of religious beliefs and practices the reality theyrepresent must be grasped (1995 : 2).
There is no independent divine reality that religious experience testifies to;the reality that is the truth of religion is social and institutional. Durkheim arguesthat whilst the feelings of the faithful are not imaginary, they are not privilegedintuitions. Their representation must be replaced with a scientific and conceptualone (1995 : 420).
The objective, universal and eternal cause of those sui generis sensations ofwhich religion is made is society. I have shown what moral forces itdevelops, and how it awakens that feeling of support, of safety, of tutelarydependence, which attaches the faithful to their cult.
(1995 : 421)
But here surely Durkheims personal disbelief and the interests of hissociological imperialism coincide? This of course is a solution that would beacceptable neither to James nor to the theologians; for James the testimony of somany believers points to a truth in religion. Here, as has been pointed out, Jamesis not consistent with his pragmatic criterion, for truth, as he uses it here, meansthe real, not that which is simply beneficial to action. Durkheim believes that truthdeals with the real, and that this has a necessity that is not reducible to the usefulresults of action (1955: 111). Yet he holds that the truth of religion isinstitutional and thus rests on its social fruits, in producing action. In otherwords, he gives a pragmatic evaluation of religion. James argued that the final testof a belief, and thus of the value of religion, is the way it works on the whole(1935 : 19). Is this not precisely what Durkheim believes?
Method and the Approach to ReligiousExperienceInterestingly, both thinkers use the concept of type. This is of course central toDurkheims methodology (1982a  ); however, James also uses types in hisanalysis healthy mindedness, the sick soul (Dittes, 1973: 299) and on thisbasis he compares different historical religious experiences. The comparativemethod is crucial to Durkheims theoretical armoury: religions can be compared,since some elements are common to all, as being species within the same genus
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(1995 : 4). Nevertheless he does not criticize James for his rather slack useof this method; Durkheim is right to argue for a logic to cross-cultural comparison which is of course implied but not addressed in Jamess analysis.
But where Durkheim and James clearly differ is over the approach to thestudy of religion. Durkheims sociological Cartesianism must be contrasted to thephenomenological study of personal experience that informs Jamess account. ForDurkheim, the enduring elements that constitute the eternal and the human inreligion cannot be uncovered through its complex evolved forms. Rather, allexplanation of things human must begin by going back to its simplest and mostprimitive form (1995 : 3). But instead of a purely logical concept, it is theconcrete reality that historical and ethnographic observation alone can revealthat must be attended to. So, in Durkheims method, the Cartesian principle thatthe first link takes precedence in the chain of scientific truth is combined withhistorical evolution, for the study of history is the only method that enables us tobreak down an institution into its component parts (1995 : 3), and allowsthe motives that originally caused those actions to be revealed (1995 : 6).This is quite explicitly the opposite of James, who argues that although theorigins and early stages are always interesting, the full significance of religionmust be found in its more completely evolved and perfect forms, which can onlybe found in articulate and fully self-conscious practitioners for these are themost accomplished in religious life (1935 : 3).
There is a difference in the two thinkers conception of experience. ForDurkheim, nothing exists except by representation (1995 : 349n). It is atthe level of collective representation that society becomes a real object oftheoretical inquiry, and it is through representation that society affects action. It isthus that Durkheim defines the sociality of religion: Religion is eminently a socialthing. Religious representations are collective representations that express col-lective realities . . . (1995 : 9). Thus experience is shared within societiesand groups and can be compared cross-culturally. For Dittes, James stressedindividuality, depth and meaning against regularity, generalizability and otherscientific variables (1973: 296). Real lived experience is concrete, personal andunique; this is consistent with Jamess philosophical pluralism. He does not sharein the post-Kantian concern with representation as a logical tool for the approachto reality.
James and the Argument of the ElementaryFormsBut, however much Durkheim opposes the theory of truth and the logic ofpragmatism, through which he is seen as opposing James (Lukes, 1973: 485ff.;Pickering, 1984: 78), he makes significant use of Jamesian positions in thedevelopment of his argument in the Elementary Forms. This is clear in Book I,where he both defines religious phenomena and challenges leading conceptions
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of religion. In the first chapter, although he acknowledges the debt to Frazer ofthe comparative science of religions, he argues that Frazer ignored the pro-foundly religious character of the beliefs and rites of totemism (1995 :21). For anyone who sees religion as nothing other than a natural manifestationof human activity, all religions are instructive (1995 : 22). James, as wehave seen, connected religion to belief and to human action.
Durkheim goes on to oppose the idea of the supernatural or that ofmystery as central to religion. Whilst he argues that this is of recent origin andpresupposes knowledge of a natural order of things (1995 : 24), his mainargument centres on the significance of sacred beings and their relation to humanaction their fundamental task is to maintain the normal course of life by posi-tive action (1995 : 26). Further, in relation to the idea of divinity, heobjects to it being taken in too narrow a way, and suggests, like Tylor (1871), thatit should be replaced by spiritual being. He argues, like James, that the naturethat is ascribed to the gods is one of human determination (1995 : 36). Heunderlines that state of dependence in which the gods are in relation to thethought of man (1995 : 349). A god is first of all a living being on whomman must count and on whom he can count (1995 : 30).
Durkheims famous definition of the special character of religious beliefsis that they presuppose the classification of the sacred and the profane. Now this ismissing from James, but a Jamesian conception of the power of divinity creepsinto Durkheims conception of the sacred as superior not only in dignity but alsoin power (1995 : 35). Sacred beings are distinguished by the greaterintensity of the powers attributed to them (1995 : 39). Durkheim buildsdependence into the relation of man and God; for James, this is a central featureof the divine relation, which, for Durkheim, is also a mutual dependence (1995: 36).
In his second chapter, Durkheim develops his argument against theleading conceptions of a science of religions firstly, the animism of Tylor andSpencer. He uses the idea of the truth and the reality of religion to oppose this. Ifanimism were true then, religious beliefs are so many hallucinatory representa-tions without any objective basis. It cannot be an illusion because religion is thewell to which people in all ages have come to draw the energy they had to have inorder to live (1995 : 66). At the centre of his argument, therefore, isJamess view of the central point of religion being its emotional dynamism, whichis connected with the will to live. Equally his argument against the second leadingconception, Max Mullers naturism, draws on the idea of the practical truth ofreligion. Naturism makes religion a kind of failed science, an immense metaphorwithout any objective foundation (1995 : 78). But for Durkheim, religioncannot maintain itself . . . unless it proves to be practically true (1995 :77, original emphasis). Certainly religion answers a need, but this is not ouradaptation to the physical world. Not only does naturism fail to show how the
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great opposition of the sacred and the profane could have so arisen, but the pointis to show how it is that sacredness has an objective basis (1995 : 84).
Belief Systems, Totemism and the SacredDurkheims answer is that examination of the cult of totemism can show howsacrality has an objective basis. This is the work of Books II and III through hisexamination of totemic beliefs. To show the origins of totemic beliefs will establishwhat kindled religious feeling in humanity (1995 : 169). I will not dealwith Durkheims use of the ethnographic material of Spencer and Gillen (seeMorphy, 1998; Richard, 1975 ); rather I will concentrate on what I take tobe the logic of his account of totemism. Totemism is a belief system (Durkheim,1995 : 100), and it is out of this that the sacred arises. The idea of thesupreme being depends so strictly on the ensemble of totemic beliefs that it stillbears their mark (1995 : 295). Indeed, logically, beliefs are the kernel ofreligion (Stedman Jones, 1998), and Durkheims treatment of totemism showsthis. Durkheimian scholarship has so far neglected the logical role of belief inDurkheims account of religion (e.g. Lukes, 1973). The ritualistic and communalfunction of religion, through the influence of Robertson Smith (1894), has beenstressed. However, the point of ritual is to reinforce beliefs.
The rite does not limit itself to expressing this kinship; it makes or remakesit. For it exists only in so far as it is believed in, and the effect of all thesecollective demonstrations is to support the beliefs on which they arefounded.
(Durkheim, 1995 : 362)
Durkheim stresses the quintessentially human character of human beliefs(1995 : 363). Beliefs are the foundation of religion. Mythological con-structions . . . cover over a system of beliefs, at once simpler and more obscure . . .which form the solid foundations upon which the religious systems are built(1995 : 204). Religion and its panoply of gods, rituals and cults do notexist without belief. The sacred character which makes them objects of a cult isnot given by their natural constitution; it is added to them by belief (1995: 349). This logical relation between belief and its objects is the backboneof Durkheims sociological explanation of religion. This argument is supported,firstly, by Jamess stress on belief and its practical consequences in action as thepivot of religious consciousness for Durkheim. If religious ceremonies have anyimportance at all, it is that they set the collectivity in motion (1995 : 352).And it is supported, secondly, by Jamess argument for the constitution of thedivine within human consciousness. This is the logical forerunner of the constitu-tion of sacred being out of collective consciousness and the sacred object as theobjectification of collective forces.
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Belief and realityBut how can Durkheim talk about objectivity and the causes of sacrality when heis dealing with beliefs? Are not beliefs per se logically subjective and variable? Wehave seen that the concept of belief is crucial to the pragmatism of James andPeirce, and is tied to practical philosophy. Indeed, despite his critiques of Kant inthis, James, like Durkheim, is in the Kantian tradition, for here belief is the pivotof practical reason. Whilst Durkheim may reject pragmatisms conception oftheory and truth, its elucidation of practical philosophy and how this relates toaction was clearly important for his account of religious belief and action. Actionis central to his conception of society, and the contrasting of him to Weber on thispoint is unfortunate. This interest in action and practical philosophy (belief is thepivot of practical consciousness) is particularly clear in the Elementary Forms. It iscentral to Durkheims conception of society. It is through common action that itbecomes conscious [conscience] of and establishes itself: it is above all an active co-operation (1995 : 421). The misunderstanding of that word thing in TheRules of Sociological Method (1982a ) has perverted the whole under-standing of Durkheims theoretical language and his approach to the socially real(Stedman Jones, 2001: 141ff.). He stresses the necessity of action and arguesthat the imperatives of thought are in all probability only another aspect of theimperatives of the will (1995 : 373).1 Indeed he viewed as important thepragmatists idea that thought is tied to action and through this creates reality;and it does this through belief (croyance) (1955: 65). The difference is that forDurkheim all beliefs are shared and as such they are collective.
In Jamess Principles of Psychology (1988 ) we find an elucidation ofhow Durkheim can identify reality and belief, objectivity and sacrality. Belief is anact of consciousness fundamental to the cognizing of reality; it is involved withthe sense of reality. Belief makes its objects real, and these are constituted as aworld. Each world while it is attended to is real after its own fashion; only thereality lapses with the attention (1988 : 643). But it is Jamess analysis ofhow practical worlds are tied to our emotional and active life that must havedrawn Durkheim, for here we find examination of worlds of living reality that arefounded on belief and that involve both will and the emotions.
The sacred and its community of believers is clearly an example of such aworld for Durkheim. Religious beliefs have substituted the world the sensesperceive, with a different world (1995 : 238). The gods . . . are conceivednot perceived (1995 : 434). Central to this represented sacred world areits sacred beings: Sacred beings exist only when they are represented as such inthe mind. When we cease to believe in them it is as though they did not exist(1995 : 349).2 They are constituted within human consciousness. It is inhuman consciences that [religious life] is elaborated (1995 : 327). And
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the sacred character is not to be discovered intrinsically in the sacred object; it issuperadded (surajoute) or superposed (superpose) (1995 : 328) by belief(1995 : 349).
But this sacred object of belief has the unique capacity to arouse emotionsthrough the re-awakening of forces in periodic assemblies (1995 : 350) orin moments of effervescence. This lies at the heart of the great function of religionthat Durkheim has discovered through the study of totemic beliefs. It revivespower and strength, and raises the level of consciousness in a way that the profanecannot, for what the believer really gives to his god . . . is his thought (1995: 350). These beliefs held in common are crucial to religion and are centralto the mental mechanism that supports all cults: to periodically re-create the moralbeing society on whom we depend.
So, for Durhkeim, like James, the principal function of religion is dynamo-genic (1975c : 180). Religion is thus the unique social institution thatbrings about the reflexive communication of the group, and thereby its self-renewal. Durkheim said that he agreed with James on this: I too think that atree is known by its fruits and that its fertility is the best proof of what its rootsare worth (1995 : 420). The real function of religion is not to enrich ourknowledge, but to make us act, to help us to live (1995 : 419). Heargues in The Religious Problem and the Duality of Human Nature (1975) that this fertility is that it allows the individual to rise above himself. Itconfers a non-illusory power: It is this which has allowed humanity to live(1975b : 23), and it does this through the energy it confers. It is clear,though, that Durkheims use of energy to describe religious experienceprecedes Varieties; it is evident in The Definition of Religious Phenomena(1975a : 77).
Another way in which Jamess analysis in Principles of Psychology could beuseful to Durkheim is through his treatment of the soul. This is central to allreligion for Durkheim its idea is contemporaneous with humanity (1995: 242). His sociological answer is that the soul is the totemic principleincarnated (1995 : 251). Now how can James help here? Surely as abeliever, with Christian tendencies, he holds to belief in the soul? Surprisingly, heargues that the soul doesnt explain anything; it does not add anything to theverified facts of conscious experience (1988 : 224). And the unity, identityand individuality it appears to explain through its immaterial presence can beaccounted for in terms of the phenomenality of states of conscious experience. Inso doing, James breaks with the substantialist theory of the soul present fromPlato, Aristotle, through Hobbes and the rationalist tradition up to and includingKant. He thus paves the way for Durkheim to argue that it is the social experienceof totemism that imprints this identity and individuality on to the consciousness(conscience) of the social agent.
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A Common Philosophical Ancestry?So far I have shown how Durkheim both criticizes and agrees with and uses someof Jamess ideas and how he picks up the questions left by James. In the answersto these he develops his own unique sociological explanation of religion. So heengages in a dialogue with James. This is not just a response to the fame ofJamess book, to which he had to respond, or merely a repudiation of thetheoretical implications of pragmatism. It is also a dialogue with a fellow admirerof Renouvier, and thus a struggle between the different implications arising outof tensions within this vast system of thought that was so influential under theThird Republic in France, and at the turn of the 20th century in Europe.
Everyone knows that Durkheim said in that oft-quoted phrase thatRenouvier was the great master who was his educator. When Durkheim says heshares the same principle of explanation as pragmatism that is, establishingrelations between things (1955: 84), this demonstrates the influence ofRenouvier. I have tried to show how this influence has contributed to substantialmisunderstandings of Durkheims theoretical language (Stedman Jones, 2001).What is less well known is that Renouvier was the greatest individual influence onthe development of Jamess thought (Perry, 1996 : 153). James wasalready writing in Renouviers journal La Critique philosophique by 1877. Durk-heim entered the Ecole Normale in 1879, where Renouvier, who was regarded asavant-garde, was widely read by the young philosophers, Durkheim amongstthem. It is interesting to note that Durkheim cites Renouvier in his theoreticalargument against pragmatism in his lectures of 1913 and calls him the greatestcontemporary rationalist (1955: 76), some nine years after Renouviers death.
It was undoubtedly Renouviers voluntarism, his pluralism and his fideismthat attracted James. But the same system that defended the freedom of thought,pluralism against monism, and the centrality of belief to the problem of certaintyin knowledge also defended the authority of reason understood through the lawsof representation, the concept of objectivity understood through functionalrelations, mathematical reasoning (it is Renouviers critique of actual infinity thatDurkheim cites in 1955 as evidence of the reality of intellectualism againstpragmatism), and the importance of theoretical pluralism in holism. It is as such,amongst other reasons, that he influenced Durkheim. But both James andDurkheim shared Renouviers stress on belief. In his Traite de psychologie ration-nelle (1875), Renouvier took Humes idea of belief as a lively idea and made itthe central pivotal force of consciousness (conscience) and the force of action, andas logically underlying representations and all questions of certainty in knowledge;whilst in his Introduction a la philosophie analytique de lhistoire (1864) he arguedthat collective beliefs (les croyances collectives) are central to historical action. BothDurkheim and James also share his concept of attention as that act of mind bywhich it is orientated to a world (see Durkheim, 1984 : 239) and the
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concept of the psychic again testimony to the influence of Renouvier, for whomall conscious experience, shown in representations, is psychique.
So, surprisingly, given the interpretation imposed on him in the socio-logical tradition, Durkheim argues for theoretical pluralism (e.g. 1984 :329), for freedom of mind and the supreme importance of belief in social action,and, indeed, for collective representations how else could science be born out ofreligion? But of course there is a tension between the intellectual force of reasonas representation, on the one hand, and belief, which involves will and theemotions, on the other as Renouvier showed in his Traite de psychologierationnelle (1875). If certainty in knowledge can only be finally established bybelief, what becomes of the authority of reason as theoretical? Hence the tensionbetween the intellectualism of the rationalism that Durkheim espoused and thevoluntarism and fideism of Jamess pragmatism. Certainly Durkheim did not haveto wait for Jamess analysis to discover the centrality of belief to claims of realityand its emotive nature. Renouvier established this in his Traite de psychologierationelle, whilst James extended and developed it.
A distinctive feature of Durkheims analysis of the sacred is that theconcept of sacred being indicates no reality beyond and independent of collectiverepresentations and forces. These are hypostatized into a sacred principle that isheld to be an absolute power, but is in reality constituted by collective conscious-ness. Behind this I suggest lies Renouviers attack on the concept of the absoluteas independent of representation and as distinct from the totality of relations ofwhich knowledge consists. It follows by implication that all forms of absolutes arereflexively constituted within a system of representations and relations, and musttherefore be so analysed (the philosophical forerunner of Durkheims God associety). This is the logical argument he addresses to absolutism in philosophy aswell as to all forms of political and social power that escape democratic republicancontrol such as the Catholic church and monarchism. God as used bytheological politics is a clear example of repressive politics, based on an absolute;on the contrary, God must be understood within terms of the ideal as constitutedby consciousness.3 We see a similar attack on absolutes in philosophy in many ofJamess writings, and this underlines his pluralism.
Final Critical ReflectionsWe have seen that Durkheim, like James, holds that religion is a sui generisexperience. For James, this revolves around personal experience, and through thishe accounts for religious genius and inspiration, which, via their gradual institu-tionalization, lead to new religions. Can Durkheim account for such religiousinnovation? Any new religion for him would require social transformation. Can heaccommodate new religions growing on the same social and economic terrain?Durkheim envisages only dissolution of theist religion through historical evolu-tion (Richard, 1975 ). The religion for the period following economic
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differentiation and social individualism is that of humanism. Durkheim did notenvisage the development of the new age cults of personal theistic belief based onoriental mysticism, to which James speaks more clearly.
There is another problem in relation to this question of the sui generisnature of religious experience. James has preserved this by encircling religiousexperience with the distinction between two types of judgement the existentialand the spiritual and between two types of knowledge, and clearly holdsreligious experience as knowledge by acquaintance; he offers a non-reductiveanalysis of the intrinsic authority of this personal experience. Durkheim, on thecontrary, theoretically opts for knowledge by description based on ethnographyand history. Can he thus maintain religions sui generis character, and if he doesnot do this, how adequate is his analysis to the kernel of religious experience? ForMaire (1933: 183), Jamess adversaries have reasoned like the adherents ofmedical materialism. Does not Durkheim do the same in terms of sociologicalreductionism, even though he argues against materialism and holds that social lifeis irreducible?
This is a reworking of the old chestnut can a non-believer adequatelyunderstand religion? And in theoretical terms it rehearses the argument ofVerstehen and empathy versus scientific methods of observation. Of courseDurkheims stress on representations as central to the agents orientation tosociety and to the theorists grasp of social life shows that he acknowledges theWeberian point about the centrality of understanding. Nor does Durkheim ignorepsychology what he insists is that this is transformed by association (seeDurkheim, 1982b ). He insists on the psychic nature of representationsand actions (1984 : 39). It is interesting to note that Weber (1958: 232) criticized James for underrating the cognitive content of religion.The same criticism cannot apply to Durkheim, because of the nature of repre-sentation, even though he stresses the emotive quality of religion and theimportance of its effervescent moments.
For Richard (1975 ), Durkheims atheism actually militates againsta proper understanding of religion and, he suggests, leads to him glossing over theaboriginal material towards his own interpretation of totemism. Indeed, thematerial as interpreted by Lang lends support to the idea of spontaneous theismof a moral nature, more Jamesian in kind than Durkheimian (1975 : 269).Richard argues that the experience of the interior life of the soul is required tounderstand religion, and Durkheims exclusion of it leads to a reductive analysisthat then fails to differentiate religious sentiment from any other collectiveemotion or collective gathering (1975 : 249).
This would seem to give rise to the following problem: the dynamogenicfunction of religion can only be operative on the basis of something that is reallybelieved in. For Durkheim, this means in effect that the force of religion can only
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be maintained by myth and not by science. Of course he accepts the transforma-tions of secularism and the danger it poses for ritual life. But, logically, is notRichard right in holding that the implication of Durkheims objective sociologicalexplanation is to reduce the sui generis nature of religion to any other collectivegathering, for do they not involve society just as much? As moments of efferves-cence, what distinguishes religious ritual from the French Revolution? But, in sodoing, is Durkheim thus not also theoretically uncoupling religion from preciselywhat makes it such a force institutionally? That is, the assumption that there isreality there and that this is the reality for the believer has to be accommodatedtheoretically, and not simply deconstructed in sociological explanation. This iscentral to account for its sui generis and dynamogenic nature as well as itsinstitutional force. That is, religion must be treated as sui generis in terms ofexplanation as well as experience.
Thus do we not come back to a Jamesian point that knowledge byacquaintance, rather than merely knowledge by description, preserves the suigeneris nature of religion? The fully adequate methodology of religion needs thetestimony for consciousness as much as description about social action. In otherwords, are not both James and Durkheim necessary for a comprehensive study ofreligion?
NotesMy thanks are due to Bill Pickering of the British Centre for Durkheimian Studies, Oxford, for his
thoughtful suggestions in relation to this material.
1. Note that this reference to will was eradicated in the Swain translation and replaced with action(1964 : 369). No wonder Durkheims thought is seen as so opposed to any element of
2. The Fields translation renders represented as imagined here.
3. We see the logic for this in his Traite de logique generale et de logique formelle (1912  ) andin his Histoire et solution des problemes metaphysiques (1901). But it can also be seen in his article
Les categories de la raison et la metaphysique de labsolu, in LAnnee Philosophique (1897).
References(References to Durkheim [except 1955] are to the current translation in English,which occasionally I alter, in the light of the original, when I deem it necessary.)
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Durkheim, E. (1955) Pragmatisme et sociologie. Paris: Vrin. [Durkheim, E.(1983) Pragmatism and Sociology, ed. J.B. Allcock, trans. J.C. Whitehouse.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.]
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Durkheim, E. (1975a) Concerning the Definition of Religious Phenomena, pp.7499 in W.S.F. Pickering (ed.), Durkheim on Religion. London: Rout-ledge & Kegan Paul. (Orig. pub. 1899: De la definition des phenomenesreligieux, LAnnee sociologique, Vol. II: 128.)
Durkheim, E. (1975b) Le Probleme religieux et la dualite de la nature humaine,in Textes, ed V. Karady. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit. (Orig. pub. 1913:Discussion Bulletin de la societe franaise de philosophie, XIII.)
Durkheim. E. (1975c) Review with Mauss, Les formes elementaires de la viereligieuse, pp. 17480 in W.S.F. Pickering (ed.) Durkheim on Religion.London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. (Orig. pub. 1913: LAnnee socio-logique, XII: 918.)
Durkheim, E. (1982a) The Rules of Sociological Method, trans. W.D. Halls.London: Macmillan. (Orig. pub. 1895: Les Regles de la methode socio-logique. Paris: Alcan; Quadrige/Presses Universitaire de France, 23rd edn1987.)
Durkheim, E. (1982b) The Psychological Character of Social Facts and TheirReality, letter to Celestin Bougle, pp. 24950 in The Rules of SociologicalMethod, trans. W.D. Halls. London: Macmillan. (Orig. 14 February 1895;reprinted in Revue franaise de sociologie 17(II), 1976.)
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Sue Stedman Jones studied philosophy and anthropology at University College London. She has a Ph.Din philosophy, From Kant to Durkheim. She taught philosophy of social science and social theory atGoldsmiths College, London. She now pursues independent research and divides her time betweenLondon and Paris. She is a member of the British Centre for Durkheimian Studies, Oxford.
Address: 22 Glenton Road, London SE13 5RS, UK.
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