Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1929-) American sociologist; educated at Princeton and Harvard, where his teachers included Jacques Maritain, Talcott Parsons, and P. A. Sorokin; he taught at both these institutions before moving in 1967 to his present position at Duke University.

Tiryakian's Sociologism and Existentialism (Prentice Hall 1961) analyzed the similarities and differences in the study of the individual and society between ╔mile Durkheim and a group of "existentialist" philosophers, including S°ren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and others. Tiryakian raised related questions concerning the relationship between sociology and philosophy in his important essay, "Existential Phenomenology and the Sociological Tradition." In these and many other writings about Durkheim, he opened important new horizons for sociology by removing the discussion of Durkheim's work from the positivistic setting in which it frequently had been found.

In several collective volumes, Tiryakian combined with other colleagues to focus attention on the sociological study of phenomena such as esoteric culture, global crises, and the role of the new nationalisms in modern Western societies. His various writings on the place of symbolic rebellion in societal change have made a particularly strong case for the study of religious heterodoxy, occult practices, sexual experimentation, stylistic rebellions, and other phenomena "on the margin of the visible" as important harbingers of wider political revolutions and social changes. The result has been not only an advance in the sociological study of neglected cultural phenomena but a theoretical clarification of processes connected with what Parsons called the "latency" and "pattern maintenance" structures of societies.

A valued mentor, Tiryakian has encouraged a variety of younger scholars, in part through a series of National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminars that he hosted on five different occasions at Duke between 1978 and 1991. He also served as President of the North American Society for the Study of Religion from 1981 to 1984, and has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the UniversitÚ RenÚ Descartes in Paris.

Donald A. Nielsen


E. A. Tiryakian, "Existential Phenomenology and the Sociological Tradition," American Sociological Review 30(1965):674-688

E. A. Tiryakian (ed.), On the Margins of the Visible (New York: Wiley, 1974).

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