August Books 15) The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, by Émile Durkheim
I should stop readng the classic works on religion and culture, because I always end up disappointed. In this classic anthropological analysis from the first years of the twentieth century, Durkheim generalises from studies of the totem cults of Australia to conclude that pretty much all intellectual concepts, including scientific theories as well as notions of God and religion, can be examined as socially constructed phenomena. While sympathetic to the conclusion (having studied the history and philosophy of science in a past life) I was not terribly excited by the journey Durkheim takes to get there. His methodology straddles what today would be fairly clearly demarcated territory between philosophy and anthropology, and I found this mixture of concepts frustrating. More specifically, the Australian worshippers (particularly the women) are never given their own voice; we hear only what white anthropologists think of them. A pioneering work, perhaps, but I rather hope that things have moved on in the last century.