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Godless Intellectuals?

Godless Intellectuals?: The Intellectual Pursuit of the Sacred Reinvented

Alexander Tristan Riley
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 308
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  • Book Info
    Godless Intellectuals?
    Book Description:

    The Durkheimians have traditionally been understood as positivist, secular thinkers, fully within the Enlightenment project of limitless reason and progress. In a radical revision of this view, this book persuasively argues that the core members of the Durkheimian circle (Durkheim himself, Marcel Mauss, Henri Hubert and Robert Hertz) are significantly more complicated than this. Through his extensive analysis of large volumes of correspondence as well as historical and macro-sociological mappings of the intellectual and social worlds in which the Durkheimian project emerged, the author shows the Durkheimian project to have constituted a quasi-religious quest in ways much deeper than most interpreters have thought. Their fascination, both personal and intellectual, with the sacred is the basis on which the author reconstructs some important components of modern French intellectual history, connecting Durkheimian thought to key representatives of French poststructuralism and postmodernism: Bataille, Foucault, Derrida, Baudrillard, and Deleuze.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-826-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 The Intellectual Pursuit of the Sacred
    (pp. 1-16)

    The central goal of this book is to map the emergence, trajectory, and influence of a very particular kind of intellectual project that I callmystic Durkheimianism, which unites two seemingly very strange bedfellows: Durkheimian sociology and poststructuralism. An understanding of its existence and influence in the French intellectual world will contribute to a better understanding of some otherwise fairly mysterious facts in intellectual history. Moreover, there are to date no treatments of this important piece of the history of French social theory by a sociologist using sociological terms and tools, and I hope to contribute to the work of...

  5. 2 Intellectual Production and Interpretation: The Intellectual Habitus
    (pp. 17-36)

    What can sociological work tell us about the meaning of intellectual work? This is the question at the heart of this book. I need to establish the basic theoretical and methodological principles with which to fill my toolkit for the task ahead. Fortunately, much of the hard thinking has already been done by others; my task here is simply to indicate what is being borrowed from whom and how it is being bent, sharpened, or otherwise altered it to fit my needs.

    Pierre Bourdieu’s theoretical framework for the study of intellectual production is presented inThe Field of Cultural Production...

  6. 3 The Scene of Durkheimian Sociology: A View of the Parisian Intellectual Field at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 37-55)

    We can date the period during which the core activity of the Durkheimians takes place roughly from 1896 to 1914. The first date is the year of the founding of theAnnéeand Durkheim’s first meeting with Hubert through his nephew. The latter date marks the outbreak of World War I, and both Hertz and Durkheim died during the war, while Hubert had little more than half a decade to live following its conclusion. The period of the greatest influence of the Durkheimians, at least in terms of their presence and power in the university and publishing worlds and in...

  7. 4 Écoles, Masters, and The Dreyfus Affair: Institutions and Networks that Shaped the Durkheimians and the Political Affair that Positioned Them
    (pp. 56-72)

    The macro-level overview of the social and cultural landscape in the previous chapter is a start to understanding the emergence of the Durkheimian intellectual, but just that. An adequate interpretation of thehabitusrequires a micro-level investigation of its origins as well. This chapter will use some of the theoretical tools outlined in Chapter 2 to focus on the specific educational institutions and environments that shaped the Durkheimian group. It will also pursue Szakolczai’s suggestion regarding the place of “masters of ceremonies” in the lives of the Durkheimians. Finally, it will explore the complex ways in which Durkheimian intellectual identity...

  8. 5 The Scene of Poststructuralism: A View of the Parisian Intellectual Field from the End of WWII to the 1960s
    (pp. 73-97)

    As we leap half a century forward from the previous chapters, much obviously changes in terms of historical detail. But with respect to the broad set of problematics that defined the emergence of theintellectuelsin the Third Republic, there is significant structural continuity between the two periods. Indeed, the same three intellectual problematics that I described facing the Durkheimians over the last two chapters can be recognized in the field in which the poststructuralists emerged. The problematic concerning the political role of intellectuals is informed in this second period by the dominance of Marxist notions of the engaged intellectual....

  9. 6 Écoles, Masters, and May 1968: Institutions and Networks that Shaped the Poststructuralists, and the Political Affair that Positioned Them
    (pp. 98-122)

    The institutional trajectories of the poststructuralists, like those of the Durkheimians, pass through a number of the same institutions and intersect with a few key figures who shaped theirhabitusprofoundly. Central here are the École Normale, the Sorbonne, the École Pratique, and three intellectual figures associated with each institution: Louis Althusser, Georges Canguilhem, and Roland Barthes, respectively.

    The École Normale played a key role in the intellectual formation of several of the poststructuralists, as it did for Durkheim, Hubert, and Hertz. Foucault, who arrived there in 1946, and Derrida, who came in 1952, werenormaliens, and Derrida was Althusser’s...

  10. 7 Being a Durkheimian Intellectual
    (pp. 123-151)

    We now have something of a macro-sociological image of the two fields in which our two groups of intellectuals put their ideas into play, as well as information on the masters of ceremonies for the two groups and the central political event that positioned both. However, the reconstruction of theirhabitusrequires a closer examination of the ways in which the members of the two groups actively viewed and set about the process of constructing identities as intellectuals in the two periods from within more intimate micro-social networks of influences and collaborators and in response to the set of intellectual...

  11. 8 The Sacred in Durkheimian Thought I
    (pp. 152-173)

    What is the definition of the sacred in the Durkheimian school? The text to which virtually everyone who is interested in responding to this question looks isLes Formes élémentaires de la vie religieusewhere the term is a key to the definition of religion: “A religion is a solidary system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is, things that are separated and forbidden, beliefs and practices that unite in a single moral community, called a Church, all those who adhere to them” (Durkheim 1991 [1912]: 108–9). But what exactly is this thing, the sacred? What...

  12. 9 The Sacred in Durkheimian Thought II: Ascetic and Mystic Durkheimianisms
    (pp. 174-200)

    In endeavoring to explain the fact that the Durkheimian religion cluster primarily wrote about primitive societies while other important members of the Durkheimian team, e.g., Maurice Halbwachs and François Simiand, concentrated on Western society, W. Paul Vogt argues that the religion cluster studied primitives in part because they had an attitude of “despair” regarding the modern world. They perceived something troubling about the contemporary situation in the West and attempted to use primitive societies as a means for pointing to what had been lost in the move to modernity (Vogt 1976: 43). According to this account, the religion cluster believed...

  13. 10 The Line of Descent of the Mystics: The Collège de Sociologie and Critique as the Conduits to Poststructuralism
    (pp. 201-220)

    In Chapter 5, I looked at some of the reasons for the decline of Durkheimian thought in French academic institutions following Durkheim’s death in 1917. The goal there was to respond to a pressing question: why this near total abandonment of an intellectual and political position that was one of the more powerful and promising ones during the middle Third Republic? Although Terry Clark’s (1973) claim for a general shift in temperament in the Latin Quarter from cartesianism to spontaneism is less an explanation than a description of the effects of some other causal factors, it seems indisputable that a...

  14. 11 Being a Poststructuralist Intellectual
    (pp. 221-242)

    One of the central ideas that emerged from the discussion of the development of the personal identities of the Durkheimians (in Chapter 7) has to do with what might be called their minoritarianhabitus. The Jewishness of Durkheim, Mauss, and Hertz is the most obvious element here. A related fact had to do with the manner in which the mystic Durkheimians Hertz and Mauss pursued a particular kind of transfigured political project that was fundamentally tied to their minoritarian identities. In this chapter, I will explore the ways in which the poststructuralist group is similarly operating from minoritarian positions, if...

  15. 12 The Sacred in Poststructuralist Thought
    (pp. 243-268)

    With the Durkheimian group, it was necessary to do a significant amount of work to demonstrate the ways in which their intellectual work constituted a statement about the role and identity of intellectuals; with the poststructuralists, a good deal of that connection of the work to an autobiographical project is done by the poststructuralists themselves. Foucault spoke frequently of the connection between his intellectual work and his own experience and identity: “I have always held that my books are, in a sense, autobiographical fragments” (2001b: 1566–67). One of Derrida’s close friends and colleagues has argued that “all Derrida’s texts...

  16. 13 Godless Intellectuals, Then? Or … Something Else?
    (pp. 269-276)

    At the conclusion ofFormes élémentaires, Durkheim posed a question: What shape will religion take in the future, as secularization, already well underway in his time, continues its expansion? I have argued that he was posing this question for the intellectuals as much as for everyone else, and that the echoes of that fact resounded in some ways that have not been fully understood. Mystic Durkheimianism, in its incarnations among the youngAnnéemembers, in the Collège de Sociologie, or in some varieties of the poststructuralism that emerged in France in the 1960s, constitutes a fascinatingly nuanced intellectual response to...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-291)
  18. Index
    (pp. 292-298)