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Durkheim, Suicide, and Religion: Toward a Network Theory of Suicide

Bernice A. Pescosolido and Sharon Georgianna
American Sociological Review
Vol. 54, No. 1 (Feb., 1989), pp. 33-48
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2095660
Page Count: 16
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Durkheim, Suicide, and Religion: Toward a Network Theory of Suicide
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Abstract

This paper redirects debates over the religion-suicide link away from specific empirical quarrels to a consideration of Durkheim's general proposition regarding religion's protective power. We argue that his proposition must be tailored to social and historical contexts and that research must specify the underlying social mechanism at work. A consideration of historical trends leads to a more detailed specification of religions in analyses of contemporary cases, and more importantly, to an inductive elaboration of Durkheim's theoretical underpinnings. Analysis of religion's effects on United States county group suicide rates in 1970 reveals that religion continues to affect suicide rates, with Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism tending to lower rates, and Institutional Protestantism tending to increase them. The presence of Jewish adherents produces a small but inconsistent protective effect. We attempt to account for these results first by examining a variety of standard religious typologies and second by examining evidence on whether religious affiliation reflects the operation of network ties. Finding this evidence suggestive, we move toward a network reinterpretation to clarify and elaborate Durkheim's theory.

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