Does Durkheim Enhance Our Understanding of Law and Religion?

In this lecture, given at the conference on “The Sacred and the Law. The Durkheimian Legacy” at the Kate Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture”, Bonn, 27-28. October 2015, I view Durkheim in two ways: in his intellectual context and as a scientist whose claims can be tested independently of that context. Durkheim’s claims on religion demonstrate his Western culturality, which constrains and qualifies those claims and limits their relevance today. His universal claims about religion actually depend on and presuppose core Christian theological themes to make them intelligible and raise questions that are possible only within a cultural context like the Western culture which is constituted by a religion: Christianity. This is made much more obvious when placing Durkheim’s claims against the theory of religion developed by S. N. Balagangadhara, whose work shows how the claim of religion as a universal derives from Christian theology, why religions are what the Semitic religions are, and why Asia as a culture has no religion. S. N. Balagangadhara‘s theory solves problems that Durkheim’s work either does not address itself to or cannot explain and generates important new questions for law and religion studies. The paper based on this talk was published in the book, The Sacred and the Law: The Durkheimian Legacyedited by Werner Gephart and Daniel Witte.

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