Anthropology – Emile Durkheim

ESSAY QUESTION “You are the renowned French sociologist, Émile Durkheim, who has influenced key theorists and anthropologists of French structural anthropology and British social anthropology through your work on religion in “primitive” cultures. Yet, you have had to respond to strong objections to your approach as it was seen as “very strange that one must turn back, and be transported to the very beginnings of history, in order to arrive at an understanding of humanity as it is at present” (page 2 in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life). You claimed: Every time that we undertake to explain something human, taken at a given moment in history be it a religious belief, a moral precept, a legal principle, an aesthetic style or an economic system it is necessary to commence by going back to its most primitive and simple form, to try to account for the characteristics by which it was marked at that time, and then to show how it developed and became complicated little by little, and how it became that which it is at the moment in question (ibid, page 3). Now, from your point of view as Émile Durkheim, describe the roots of anthropology in terms of the search for answers to fundamental, universal questions such as the following: Where did we come from? Why do we differ? How does the world work? How have we evolved? In outlining the history of anthropology, discuss how the discipline has changed since the days when philosophers, theologians, and explorers from antiquity to the 19th century first began to observe developments, complications, and differences between “primitive” and “civilized” cultures.” The introduction chapter of “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life” was the primary source used to determine Durkheim’s contributions for the foundation of this paper but other sources for his theories may be necessary Key points of paper that need to be addressed: Summary of Emile Durkheim’s position in anthropology Demonstrate links to other authors/schools of anthropology: resonance and divergences (ongoing intellectual genealogy/dialogue) Demonstrate complexities Use case studies and ethnographies (As evidence of theoretical considerations) The paper should demonstrate knowledge about Durkheims theoretical foundations (social facts as representations of the collective consciousness, his focus on social cohesion and his universalist approach, mechanical and organic solidarity, the need to look at the simplest most ‘primitive’ forms of something to truly understand it, – i.e. Durkheim’s view/understanding of society). It should also show how other scholars (e.g Hubert Spencer’s “social organism”)influenced Durkheim and how scholars after Durkheim either diverged or resonated with his theories. Could you please specifically discuss the way in which Durkheim understands religion (and thus totemism) through his theories of social facts and mechanical/organic solidarity etc and contrast this with another scholars theories on the same topic (perhaps Claude Levi-Strauss, Bronislaw Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown or Evans Pritchard). A case study/ethnography (on Australian aboriginal religion/totemism) should be from a more recent contemporary time and would therefore most likely depict a different basis than what Durkheim has suggested as Durkheim did not actually go to Australia and study the Aboriginal peoples religion. All sources should be from academic journals.

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