Emile Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life
A Centenary Celebration
Flinders University, Victoria Square Campus
Friday September 21st, 2012
Earlier this year we announced our support of a symposium to commemorate the publication of Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life hosted by Flinders University. The event went ahead last Friday and was a great success. The Cultural Sociology Group congratulates UNE postgrad student Dennis Foster who received a scholarship to attend the event. Cultural Sociology group member Eduardo de la Fuente provided this review of the symposium.
The School of Social and Policy Studies, Flinders, in conjunction with the Australian Sociological Association and the French Embassy of Australia sponsored a one-day symposium on Friday the 21st of September, 2012, to commemorate the publication of Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. First published 100 years ago, the book pioneered the sociological and anthropological study of the ‘sacred’. Interestingly, the data for this social science ‘classic’ was derived from ethnographic accounts of Australian Aborigines, including groups around Adelaide, Encounter Bay and parts of Central Australia. So it was very fitting – as more than one speaker noted – for Flinders to have hosted such a celebration of this important book.
The symposium was convened by Drs Suzi Adams and Eduardo de la Fuente from Sociology, Flinders; and Mr Tristan Kennedy, PhD candidate in Sociology, was project officer for the event. It was attended by 45 participants and included keynote addresses from Dr Natalie Doyle, European Studies, Monash University; and Associate Professor John Rundell, Director of the Ashworth Centre, University of Melbourne. The speakers included interstate scholars such as Professor Alan Scott, Sociology, University of New England and Dr David Holmes of Communications and Media Studies, Monash; one News Limited journalist; Dr Brad West of UniSA (formerly of Flinders) and, in addition to the convenors, Dr Crag Matheson from Politics, Flinders. The papers all drew on Durkheim’s seminal text but covered topics as diverse as Islam and debates about secularization in France; rituals in the organizational life of the Australian Public Service; contemporary pilgrimages to Gallipoli; debates about the whether the modern state constituted a type of political sacred; religious experience amongst Australian Pentecostals; the role of the senses in what Durkheim termed ‘collective effervescence’; and assessments of whether thinkers such as Charles Taylor, Cornelius Castoriadis or Jean Baudrillard (author of the infamous tract, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place) were the rightful heirs to Durkheim’s thinking about the enduring significance of the sacred in contemporary societies.
A special issue of a journal is planned from the papers. This will be published in either late 2013 or early 2014. A sequel is to be held at the University of Melbourne and will be hosted by the Ashworth Centre. This event will also involve a discussion of a well-known social science ‘classic’ and will use the Flinders event as its model.
Eduardo de la Fuente is Lecturer in Sociology in the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences at Flinders University.
For those interested further in Durkheim’s work, the current issue of The Journal of Classical Sociology (Vol. 12, Issue 3-4) is a special issue on ‘New Durkheim Scholarship – French Connections’. Happy reading 🙂