Emile Durkheim was born in 1858 in Epinal in Lorraine, France. He was the son of French Jews of a devout nature: his father, grandfather and great-grandfather were rabbis. His father was the chief rabbi of the Vosages and the Haute Marine and his mother was a merchant’s daughter. While he did not follow in his familial devoutness, leaving rabbinical school for paris and to remain a secular Jew, he maintained relationships with the community, family, colleagues and friends. He briefly investigated, then rejected Catholicism for an agnostic belief system.
Little is known about Durkheim’s family, beyond his marriage to Louise Dreyfus and his two children, daughter Marie and son Andre, who was killed in World War I.
He left Paris because of the unliklihood that his views would allow him to have an academic career and went to Leipzig, Marburg and Berlin, to study sociology. In Leipzig he became interested in the value of empiricism over the cartesian school of thought. He returned to France, teaching sociology, which was a new field of study in France, and pedagogy in Bordeaux at a teacher’s center. In 1902, achieved a chair in the school of education at the Sorbonne, where he had enormous influence on the French school system, where the universities were predominantly for educating teachers.
He went on to reform France’s school system by introducing the study of social sciences in the schools there. Aguste Comte was a major influence on Emile Durkheim. Durkheim applied empirical social research with sociological theory to Comte’s theory of social positivism. He also investigated solidarism from the anthropological direction, and investigated many parts of society, including crime, education and religion.
During the 1890s, Durkheim made several achievements. He wrote “The Division of Labour In Society” in 1892. This was his doctoral thesis. In 1895, he wrote “The Rules Of The Sociological Method”. In 1897, he published a case study of “Suicide” and demonstrated what a sociological monograph should look like. In 1898 Durkheim founded the journal “L’Annee Sociologique” which became a collaborative showcase for sociological writings. These intensive activities cemented Durkheims place as one of the “founding fathers” of social science, along with Marx and Weber.
While Durkheim rejected his jewish heritage of rabbinicism for a secular life, it is arguable whether his social positivist theories and approach are actually secularized jewish thought or whether jewish thought even had such a overwhelming influence on his thinking at all.
Durkheim was politically a leftist, but supported a secularism and rationalism in politics and was a patriot. The turning tide in French politics at World War I, led to a up swell of rightist political fervor and anti Jewish sentiment that was fueled by the Dreyfus incident. Durkheim found himself both at odds and a subject of anti-semitic attitude. Worse, his son and many of his students were drafted into military service and perished in World War I. Andre Durkheim died in 1915, leaving his father devastated and overworked.
Emile Durkheim suffered a stroke and died in Paris in 1917. He is buried at the cemetary in Montparnasse. He was a French positive sociologist and is regarded as the architect of modern sociology.