Robert Alun Jones
Professor Jones joined the UIUC faculty in 1972. His main area of teaching and research is the history of religious ideas and social theory, and particularly the life and works of the French sociologist and philosopher Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). His books include Emile Durkheim: An Introduction to Four Major Works (Sage, 1986) and The Development of Durkheim’s Social Realism (Cambridge University Press, 1999). He has written numerous articles on religion and social theory in the nineteenth century, as well as the methodology of intellectual history and the use of electronic documents and networked information systems in the humanities and social sciences. For more than twenty years, he has had an abiding interest in the set of primitive religious beliefs and social practices known as “totemism.” These beliefs and practices became an obsession of European intellectuals between 1865 and World War I, eventually leading to three of the most important and influential works in the history of social science — Frazer’s Golden Bough (1890), Durkheim’s Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse (1912), and Freud’s Totem und tabu (1913). But even as these classic works appeared, doubts that the various features of totemism, e.g., exogamy, matrilineal descent, a totemic “sacrament,” etc., could be subjected to any unifying theory had already emerged; and in retrospect, it appears that totemism was less a coherent institution than an “evocative object” contrived to serve the interests and purposes of late Victorian intellectuals. The Secret of the Totem will be a detailed account of this intellectual obsession that proved not only elusive, but illusory, and what this might tell us about the social sciences.