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Certeau, Michel de (1925–86)

Ian Buchanan

Subject Sociology » Sociology of Culture and Media, Sociology of Religion

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Born in 1925 in Chambéry, France, Michel de Certeau obtained degrees in classics and philosophy at the universities of Grenoble, Lyon, and Paris. Joining the Society of Jesus in 1950, he was ordained in 1956. He completed a doctorate on the mystical writings of Jean-Joseph Surin at the Sorbonne in 1960 and taught in Paris and San Diego. He died of stomach cancer in 1986. Certeau's career can be divided into three stages. The first was largely concerned with traditional religious history; then, after “the Events of May” (1968), his work took a very different turn, becoming both contemporary and sociocultural; then, after a highly productive decade writing about contemporary issues, Certeau's thoughts returned to the history of religion and he produced what would be his last book, a two-volume history of seventeenth-century mysticism in Europe. The first stage of Certeau's career culminated in a profound retheorization of history, the fruit of which is to be seen in L'écriture de l'histoire ( The Writing of History ), first published in 1975. Greatly influenced by Lacanian psychoanalysis, Certeau argued that history is a machine for calming the anxiety most westerners feel in the face of death. It works by raising the specter of death within a memorial framework that gives the appearance that we will live forever after all. Ultimately, Certeau's project was an attempt to understand ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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