Sociology Index

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Jacques Ellul

Jacques Ellul (1912 – 1994) was a philosopher, sociologist, lay theologian, and professor who was a noted Christian anarchist. Ellul was a longtime Professor of History and the Sociology of Institutions on the Faculty of Law and Economic Sciences at the University of Bordeaux. Jacques Ellul authored more than 60 books and more than 600 articles over his lifetime, which discussed propaganda, the impact of technology on society, and the interaction between religion and politics.

The dominant theme of Jacques Ellul's work proved to be the threat to human freedom and religion created by modern technology. He did not seek to eliminate modern technology or technique but sought to change our perception of modern technology and technique to that of a tool rather than regulator of the status quo. Among his most influential books are The Technological Society and Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes.

Jacques Ellul was trained as a sociologist, and approached the question of technology and human action from a dialectical viewpoint. His writings are frequently concerned with the emergence of a technological tyranny over humanity. As a philosopher and theologian, Jacques Ellul further explored the religiosity of the technological society. In 2000, the International Jacques Ellul Society was founded by a group of former Ellul students. The society, which includes scholars from a variety of disciplines, is devoted to continuing Ellul's legacy and discussing the contemporary relevance and implications of his work.

Jacques Ellul's three primary sources of inspiration were Karl Marx, Søren Kierkegaard, and Karl Barth. Ellul was first introduced to the ideas of Karl Marx during an economics lecture course taught by Joseph Benzacar in 1929–30; Ellul studied Marx and became a prolific exegete of his theories. Jacques Ellul also came across the Christian existentialism of Kierkegaard. According to Ellul, Marx and Kierkegaard were his two greatest influences, and the only two authors whose work he read in its entirety. Also, he considered Karl Barth, who was a leader of the resistance against the German state church in World War II, the greatest theologian of the 20th century. Jacques Ellul also said that his father played a great role in his life and considered him his role model.

These ideological influences earned Jacques Ellul both devoted followers and vicious enemies. In large measure, and especially in those of his books concerned with theological matters, Ellul restates the viewpoints held by Barth, whose polar dialectic of the Word of God, in which the Gospel both judges and renews the world, shaped Ellul's theological perspective. In Jacques Ellul: A Systemic Exposition Darrell J. Fasching claimed Ellul believed "That which desacralizes a given reality, itself in turn becomes the new sacred reality."