Document Type

Article

Publication Date

January 2002

Journal or Book Title

Sociological Theory

Volume

17

Issue

3

Abstract

Religion may well be the most inscrutable surd of social theory, which began late in the 19th century dismissing the subject. Not even the renewal of interest in religion in the 1960s did much to make religion a respectable topic in social theory. It is possible that social theory’s troubles are, in part, due to its refusal to think about religion. Close examination of social theories of Greek religion suggest, for principal example, that religion is perfectly able to thrive alongside the profane provided both are founded on principles of finitude, which in turn may be said to be the foundational axiom of any socially organized religion. The value of a social theory of religion, thus defined, may be seen as a way out of the current controversies over the politics of redistribution and politics of recognition. Any coherent principles of social justice, whether economic or cultural, may only be possible if one begins with the idea that all human arrangements are, first and foremost, limited—that is to say: finite; hence, strictly speaking, religious. Durkheim got this only partly right.

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