Effervescence and Implosion in the Sociologies of Emile Durkheim and Jean Baudrillard: Towards a Sociology of Religion at the End of the Social

Tremlett, Paul-François (2020). Effervescence and Implosion in the Sociologies of Emile Durkheim and Jean Baudrillard: Towards a Sociology of Religion at the End of the Social. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, 16(1)

URL: https://baudrillardstudies.ubishops.ca/effervescen...



Jean Baudrillard’s sociology entered the sociology of religion through the important work of Adam Possamai (Possamai 2005). Possamai defined new religions such as Discordianism, Matrixism and Jediism as hyper-real simulacrums of religion, “created out of, or in symbiosis with, commodified popular culture” providing “inspiration at a metaphorical level” and/or “beliefs for everyday life” (2012: 20). Despite the originality of Possamai’s engagement with Baudrillard’s work, he has nevertheless avoided many of Baudrillard’s most provocative ideas, including the linked concepts of implosion, the end of the social and fatal theory. Arguably these are strange omissions, given the implication of Possamai’s project (documenting processes of implicit religious resurgence) in the sociology of religion’s dominant discourse the secularization thesis, and modernity’s linear imaginaries of time and progress more generally. Baudrillard’s experimentation with tropes and metaphors of implosion, dissipation and exhaustion in which modernity is envisaged not as limitless growth or expansion but as collapsing in on itself like a black hole, surely provides the basis for an important provocation against the evolutionist, productivist and positivist sensibilities that have shaped the classical sociology of religion and which continue to haunt contemporary sociological theory and research on religion.

In this essay I accomplish two tasks: first, I bring Baudrillard’s work into an alternative relationship with the sociology of religion through juxtaposition with the writings of Emile Durkheim (see Gane 1991: 9; Riley 2002: 255-257; Riley 2005: 293-295). Durkheim and Baudrillard share a common link to the figure of Georges Bataille, the founder of the short-lived Collège de Sociologie (1937-39). Like Durkheim, Bataille believed that ritual was constitutive of the social. But, in contrast to Durkheim’s focus on totemic ritual, the “electricity” (Durkheim 1915: 215) it generates and the “perpetual sustenance” (1915: 211) this pure sacred provides for ‘primitive’ society, Bataille’s focus was on the potlatch, the impure sacred, waste and non-utilitarian expenditure (Jenks 2003: 100-107; Richman 2003). Baudrillard’s interest in implosion accentuates and deepens Bataille’s break from Durkheim’s productivist conception of ritual and its sacred energies: whereas Durkheim presupposed a virtuous circle between ritual, energy and the formation of a rational social entity available to the gaze of the sociologist, Baudrillard envisions the increasing impenetrability of the social, “an opaque nebula whose growing density absorbs all surrounding energy”, that finally brings to an end “all those schemas of production, radiation and expansion according to which our imaginary functions” (Baudrillard 2007: 36-37). Second, then, I sketch a Baudrillardian approach to the sociology of secularization that assumes not the exhaustion of religion but the exhaustion of wider the social, a move with significant consequences for theories of secularization and the sacred on the one hand (Riley 2002), and for theories of lived and liquid religion and the conceptualisation of resilient, sustainable social solidarities, on the other (McGuire 2008; Groot 2006 and 2008). However, I begin with Claude Lévi-Strauss’ meditations on entropy (Tremlett 2008: 92 and 2011: 363), to reflect upon the different imaginaries of energy and society articulated by Durkheim and Baudrillard.

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