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Arnold Van Gennep and the Rise of French Sociology of Religion

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Van Gennep's contribution to the science of religion can be assessed from various points of view. Most scientists concentrate on Van Gennep's often quoted Les rites de passage. Other scientists call him the "Master of French ethnology" or the "Master of the study of French Folklore". Van Gennep is seen as a heroic martyr, harassed by academic interests. A third point of view concentrates on the question why Van Gennep was excluded from the Année sociologique group. This matter of Van Gennep being excluded from the Année sociologique group is theoretically the most interesting one. Van Gennep discussed methodological questions with the members of this group. Through this discussion we can gain a clearer understanding of the rise of early French sociology. The purpose of this article is to examine those various points of view. After discussing the assessment concentrating on Les rites de passage, the assessment by his admirers Belmont and Zumwalt, I will give space to the discussion between Van Gennep and the members of the Année sociologique group. Important items in this discussion are those concerning the interpretation of totemism as an archaic institution, the relation between individuals and society, the ontological status of society and the empirical nature of social sciences. In the conclusion I will assess those various points of view. The examination and conclusion will be preceded by a biographical sketch and a survey of Van Gennep's oeuvre.


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