Rethinking the Profane

By Robbie Duschinsky.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Durkheim generally theorises the profane as a residual category: it is that from which the sacred is set apart. Subsequent social scientists using the framework of the sacred in their research have tended to neglect the profane, presuming that it has no specific effects or significance. This paper will suggest, through a reading of the work of Pierre Bourdieu, that the ‘ambiguity of the sacred’ noted by Durkheim, its production of pure and impure aspects, is actually an effect founded on latent divisions within the profane. Though previous scholars have not noted this contribution, Bourdieu presents us with a new way of theorising the profane. What appeared to Durkheim, and later researchers, as an ambiguous and arbitrary shifting between pure and impure aspects of the sacred is actually predictable, once attention is trained on the complexity of the profane. Implied in this new understanding is that the sacred is not politically or socially neutral. It should rather be seen as complicit in the consecration of relations of power, and in the occlusion of these relations.

Keywords: Pure and Impure, Profane, Durkheim, Bourdieu, Social Power

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.119-126. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 638.861KB).

Robbie Duschinsky

PhD Student, Politics, Psychology, Sociology and International Studies, Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK

Robbie Duschinsky is a PhD student in Sociology at Cambridge University. His research has focused on representations of purity and impurity in contemporary Western societies. Part of this research is theoretical, advancing new heuristics and models for understanding these phenomena; part of the research has been empirical, examining particular descriptions of purity and impurity - especially pertaining to childhood. He has several publications forthcoming on these topics in peer-reviewed journals.

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