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Sociology: People


Edgar Zavala-Pelayo

Edgar Zavala-Pelayo
Edgar Zavala-Pelayo
Edinburgh UK
Research Interests
Sociology of knowledge and science, Sociology of Religion, Postcolonial theory, Secularism, Theories of social power


PhD Title

Religion and “secular” social science: The neglected epistemological influences of Catholic discourses on sociology in Mexico 


Thesis Overview


Inspired by the Enlightenment’s principles of rationality, positivistic ideologies and the nascent modern-industrial state, sociology since its inception in Europe was conceived as a fundamentally secular enterprise. Whereas classic positivistic streams have been rather left aside, secularism in sociology still remains as a cornerstone of the discipline’s configuration and identity. However, is sociology in the 21st century really "secular"?


In my dissertation I present to the reader an empirical research about the epistemological influences of Catholicism upon sociology in Mexico, a constitutionally secular state since the 19th century. Theoretically, I draw from authors who have put forward the epistemological influences of Christianity upon western social science. I argue that these authors have unintentionally re-stated, with interesting additions, Durkheim’s rather neglected theses about the socio-religious origin of our ‘categories of thought’ –‘classification’ and ‘causality’ in particular. Although I do not attempt to trace the origins of sociology's classifications and causalities back to Catholicism in Mexico, I do argue that it is possible to find salient similarities between both knowledge fields in terms of these categories and other discursive characteristics. By analysing these resemblances in a (neo)Durkheimian-Weberian frame, I explain how Catholic discourses in Mexico, combined with the Mexican state’s teleological discourses on democracy, modernisation and progress, influence sociological discourses not through Durkheim's  ‘imitative rites’ and a priori ‘necessary connections’, but through a series of ‘bridge’ institutions and particular cultural-ideological structures. Individuals’ own religious beliefs and their deliberate and unintended interactions with these elements and their emergent properties turn apparently parochial Catholic discourses into a series of ‘discursive offensives’ which subtly yet pervasively have shaped common sense in society at large and currently predispose sociology practitioners to adopt and develop i) ‘mono-causal’ and ‘power-over’ interpretations of social phenomena, ii) implicit and explicit dichotomistic logics as well as iii) normative-prescriptive sociological stances.


In arguing this, I account for how Weberian authority models and Weberian-Mertonian religious values are not only key ‘background factors’, but also constitute actual ‘cognitive devices’ in the production of sociological knowledge. I also offer empirical evidence about the role that individuals’ religious beliefs play in the conception of sociological models of power and causality and, by extension, in the construction of ‘scientific reason’ or ‘scientific beliefs’. These accounts support the view of contemporary religions as plastic discourses whose ideological powers permeate, under certain historical conditions, the knowledge produced in scientific domains whose secularity has been mistakenly taken for granted. And this, I conclude, strongly suggests the need to revise the secularist foundations of sociologies of science and scientific knowledge, of sociology in general as well as current monolithic paradigms of secularism and science-religion dualistic debates





(Forthcoming) 'Pastoral Power outside Foucault's Europe: public education and the 'epistemic authority' of social scientists in Mexico', Journal of Political Power


(2013) 'Unearthing Durkheim's buried thesis: religions and scientific classifications', Estudios en Ciencias Sociales y Administrativas, vol. 3. 


(2011) 'Teorías, teorizaciones, tiempo y contextos: un esquema conceptual para analizar teorías sociológicas y lo que hay detrás' ['Theory, theorisations, time and contexts: a conceptual scheme to analyse theories and what is behind'], Estudios Sociologicos, vol. 29, no. 85. pp. 33-59.



Conference papers


(2013) 'Is benevolence enough? Professional sociologies in Mexico and the issue of epistemic provincialization in global and postcolonial sociologies', BSA Early Career Theorist's Symposium, London, April 2013.


(2012) 'Are social sciences really secular? The non-secular discourses of secular sociologists in Mexico'. BSA Annual Conference, Leeds, UK, April 2012.



Academic Work Experience


(2012-2013) Tutor 'Sociology 1' and 'Social and Political Enquiry 2', School of Social and Political Science, The University of Edinburgh.


(2007) Research Assistant. Project: History of the University of Guanajuato's School of Industrial Relations.



Invited presentation and workshops


(2012) 'Qualitative research: practical difficulties and some suggestions', Master in Management programme, Universidad de Celaya, Mexico, August 2012


(2010) Presentation of doctoral work in progress, Department of Socio-cultural Studies, Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, Mexico, June 2010


(2010) Presentation of doctoral work in progress, Centro de Estudios Sociales del Estado de Aguascalientes, Mexico, May 2010


(2008) 'Social Network Analysis: social networks outside the internet', International Conference on Technology, Quality and Human Capital, Universidad de Guanajuato, Mexico, October 2008.  





Jonathan Hearn,

Steven Kemp,



Qualifications and other studies


MRes (Sociology) University of Edinburgh

Student exchange & undergraduate research project (Sociology) Universidad Publica de Navarra, Spain 

BS (Industrial Relations) Universidad de Guanajuato, Mexico





British Sociological Association

BSA Sociology of Religion Study Group