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November 15: Émile Durkheim

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November 15, 2013

0022-criador-sociologiaÉmile Durkheim, one of the founders (with Karl Marx and Max Weber, separately) of the academic discipline of sociology, died in Paris at 59 on this date in 1917, two years after the devastating loss of his son in World War I. Himself the son, grandson, and great-grandson of French rabbis, Durkheim decided at a young age to live a completely secular life, later stating that “It is science, and not religion, which has taught people that things are complex and difficult to understand.” Wide-ranging in his research and writing, Durkheim systematically studied religion, suicide, anomie, divisions of labor, modernization of societies, education, crime, fashion, class divisions, and many other “social facts” of “social life.” He founded and edited the first journal of sociology (L'Année Sociologique) and became France’s first sociology professor. Although not a political radical, he made many radical social insights. Durkheim coined the term “collective consciousness,” or “collective conscience,” the knowledge and beliefs shared by members of a society that allow them to maintain their beliefs, behaviors, appearances, and aspirations in common, even when viable alternatives are known and readily available. He believed this was accomplished by positive reinforcements and negative sanctions imposed on individuals.

“There is something eternal in religion that is destined to outlive the succession of particular symbols in which religious thought has clothed itself.”— Émile Durkheim

Many thanks to Dan Brook for proposing and composing this Jewdayo entry.