Durkheim on Original and Aboriginal Religion: Issues of Method

Garry W. Trompf


When Émile Durkheim wrote of the formes élémentaires of religion, he was not writing about the origins of religion, as did so many of his contemporaries, from E. B. Tylor to James George Frazer. Rather, drawing on the work of some perhaps unlikely predecessors, chief among them Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Durkheim built a theory of religion that ought to have disallowed the question of origins altogether. For, if religion is a reflection and an integral part of society itself, how could we even imagine a human society existing before the emergence of religion? This article revisits Durkheim’s seminal work on Australian Aboriginal religion in light of this basic feature of his theory and questions whether Durkheim was able, ultimately, to avoid the thorny question of the origin of religion.


Durkheim; Australian Aboriginal religion; Rousseau

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.11157/rsrr1-2-472