Theses Doctoral

“Only a god can save us:” A Reconstruction and Defense of Durkheim’s Account of Religious Life, with Continual Reference to Heidegger and Kierkegaard

Cullen, Conor

What do religions do and how do they do it? In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Émile Durkheim claims that religions are “grounded in and express the real” and center upon a set of ritualized practices that enact and embody in a distinctively intense and potentially transformative form the truth regarding the constitutive relations in which we stand to one another. With the help of Heidegger’s account in “The Origin of the Work of Art” of the way in which works of art work, along with Kierkegaard’s relational account of the health and sickness of the self in The Sickness Unto Death, I attempt in this dissertation to develop an improved version of the basic Durkheimian picture.

The central claim is that religious practices are in the game of cultivating and actively integrating the fundamental relationships upon which our being as persons in a most radical and literal sense depends. Where successful, the heightened modes of relationality enacted in such practices transform us into more active, vital, and unalienated agents capable of tackling the concrete normative situations in which we lead our lives. For these reasons, I argue that religious practices aren’t going and shouldn’t go anywhere. If anything, we have grounds for leaning into them more if we hope to develop the existential resources to tackle the various forms of relational breakdown that constitute the true ground of the problem of “disenchantment” and with which our alienated, lonely, and unjust world is saturated.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Neuhouser, Frederick
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 20, 2021