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What is a rite? Émile Durkheim, a hundred years later

Lorenzo D’Orsi / Fabio Dei
Published Online: 2018-10-18 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opis-2018-0009


This paper is focused on the anthropological concept of ritual, starting from Emile Durkheim's approach in Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse (1912). We discuss three different aspects of the Durkheimian perspective on religion and rituals: a) the sacred/profane dichotomy; b) the concept of collective representations - which establishes a substantial continuity between religious and scientific thought; c) a ‟practical” and performative interpretation of rites as the basis of social bond. During the twentieth century, these aspects have influenced different and sometimes opposing theoretical approaches (including ‟symbolist” and ‟neo-intellectualist” theories and Victor Turner's ‟anthropology of experience”). We briefly review each of them, arguing for the importance of reconsidering them into a unitary perspective, centred on religious phenomena as basically moral experiences and as the language of social relations. In the conclusions, we will show how such unitary approach helps us understand the transformations as well as the continuities of rituality in the individualized and secularized societies of what we call nowadays the Western world.

Keywords: Rituals; Durkheim; anthropological concept of ritual; the sacred/profane dichotomy; rite


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About the article

Received: 2018-02-13

Accepted: 2018-07-27

Published Online: 2018-10-18

Published in Print: 2018-10-01

Citation Information: Open Information Science, Volume 2, Issue 1, Pages 115–126, ISSN (Online) 2451-1781, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opis-2018-0009.

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© by Lorenzo D’Orsi and Fabio Dei, published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

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