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Durkheim, Émile (1854–1917)

Known generally as France's first sociologist, Émile Durkheim was far more than that. Durkheim was born David Émile at Epinal in Lorraine in 1858, the eldest male in a Jewish family that had produced generations of rabbis. As expected, Durkheim prepared himself for the rabbinate, but in a fit of rebellion, he quit this training at about 14. The emotionally charged nationalism of the day played a major part in Durkheim's embrace of a “religious” patriotism. It seemed to overwhelm any affiliation to a traditional religion, even his own Judaism. By the age of 18 or so, Durkheim turned atheist, or at least agnostic. Durkheim had his higher education at the prestigious École Normale Superieure, where Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges, author of a classic ...

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