Three Faces of God

Society, Religion, and the Categories of Totality in the Philosophy of Emile Durkheim

By Donald A. Nielsen

Subjects: Religion
Series: SUNY series in Religion, Culture, and Society
Paperback : 9780791440360, 268 pages, November 1998
Hardcover : 9780791440353, 268 pages, November 1998

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Table of contents



1. Durkheim's Project: A Claim

2. Durkheim's Intellectual Development and the Durkheimian Theoretical Program

Durkheim's Social Philosophy and the Revelation of 1895

The Durkheimian Program of Theory and Research

3. Durkheim's Concept of Totality and the Philosophical Tradition: Selected Predecessors

Durkheim and Aristotle

Durkheim and Bacon

Durkheim and Spinoza

Durkheim, Kant and Renouvier

4. Durkheim's Early Writings and the Dissertation on Montesquieu

5. The First Approach to Totality: Wholes, Parts, and the Transformation of Social Substance in The Division of Labor in Society

6. The Problem of Totality in Durkheim's Transitional Period

Social Facts and the Whole/Part Problem in The Rules of Sociological Method

Religion, Totality and Society in Durkheim's Lectures on Socialism

Totality and Its Modes in Suicide

7. Between Revelation and Realization: The Developing Problem of Totality in Durkheim from 1898 to 1912

The Whole in Durkheim's Lectures on State, Society and Professional Ethics

The Problem of the Whole in Durkheim's Essays I: 1898–1905

Durkheim and Rousseau

The Problem of the Whole in Durkheim's Lectures on Education

Fragments of the Problem of Totality in Durkheim's Essays II: 1905–1912

8. The Problem of Totality in the Early Durkheim School: The Work of Durkheim, Mauss, Hubert, Hertz, and Bouglé

Durkheim and Mauss on Primitive Classification

Mauss on Social Morphology and Eskimo Society

Hubert and Mauss on Mentalities, Magic, and Society

Hubert on the Collective Representation of Time

Reason and Society: The Hubert and Mauss Preface to the Melanges d'Histoire des Religions

Robert Hertz on Religious Polarity

Bouglé on the Hindu Caste System

9. The Second Approach to Totality: Society, Religion, and the Categories in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life

Nature and Society

Totality and Society

The Categories, Totality, and Society

Society, Deity, Totality

10. The Problem of Totality in Durkheim's Last Writings

The Lectures on Pragmatism

The Dualism of Human Nature

11. Sociological Monism and the Encounter Between Tradition and Modernity

Durkheim's Sociological Monism: A Systematic Reconstruction

Sociological Monism in Civilizational Perspective: Toward the Historical Location of Durkheim's Thought



A fresh interpretation of the work of Emile Durkheim, which argues that in addition to being a pioneer in sociological theory and research, Durkheim was also a major social philosopher concerned with religion, metaphysics, and knowledge.


Three Faces of God offers a new interpretation of Emile Durkheim's social philosophy. It challenges the current view of him as primarily a scientific sociologist who identified sociology with the study of collective representations. Nielsen argues that Durkheim was a sociological monist who developed a concept of social substance and a theory of society, religion and the categories of understanding strikingly similar to Spinoza's philosophy. The book provides a comprehensive examination of Durkheim's major and minor writings, especially his theory of religion and the categories, and compares his work with Aristotle, Bacon, Kant, and Renouvier. The author places Durkheim's thought in the context of an encounter between traditional religious ideals, especially Judaism, and modernizing scientific and philosophical currents.

Donald A. Nielsen is Associate Professor of Sociology at State University of New York College at Oneonta.


"This is sociological scholarship at its best. This work goes to the head of the class in terms of an original work relating Durkheim to central philosophical questions and traditions. " -- Edward A. Tiryakian, Duke University

"The author's command of the Durkheimian texts and of relevant secondary commentary is impressive. He makes his case in a careful and sustained way, building from one text to another, and in the process reveals a unifying philosophical orientation throughout the Durkheimian corpus. " -- Peter Kivisto, Augustana College