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Georges Bataille on Religion and the Sacred

Lecturer: Mark Hewson

Originally Taught: Winter School 2014

3-5pm | 16-20 June | Room 0106

This course will examine Bataille’s thought on the sacred and religion.  To this end, it will consider the influence of ethnography, sociology of religion and history of religion on his work.  The course will begin with an introduction to the rise of these fields with Durkheim and Mauss, focussing in particular on their understanding of the phenomenon of ‘the sacred’, derived from the study of archaic societies.  It will then consider texts from the “College of Sociology”, an institute (essentially a lecture-series) set up by Bataille and Caillois (who was a student of Mauss) in the years immediately preceding the Second World War.  We will also study Caillois’ book Man and the Sacred.  In each case, the question is of the relevance of ethnographic conceptions of the sacred to modern society, in the context of a critique of consumer culture and the rise of fascism in Europe.  These readings will prepare the ground for a close study of Bataille’s book, Theory of Religion.  In this work, from 1948, we will consider how Bataille presents his own thought as an appropriation and a re-interpretation of the sociological themes of the sacred and the profane.  We will then go on to study Bataille’s history of religion and his situation of modern capitalism within the perspective of this history.

Course Schedule and Associated Readings

Lecture 1: Sociology of Religion

Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religion

Mauss and Hubert, Sacrifice: its Nature and Function         

Bataille, texts from the journal Documents

Lecture 2: The discourse on ‘the sacred’ and the politics of the 1930s

Bataille, “The Psychological Structure of Fascism” (extracts)

-- Texts from Acéphale

Texts by Bataille, Caillois and Leiris from The College of Sociology (1937-39) (ed. Denis Hollier).

Lecture 3 The ambiguity of the sacred

Caillois, Man and the Sacred (1939)

Lecture 4  Bataille on the Sacred and the Profane

Bataille  “The Sacred”

--“The Moral Meaning of Sociology”

-- Theory of Religion

Lecture 5  Bataille’s history of religion and his critique of modern society

Bataille Theory of Religion.

-- The Accursed Share (extracts).