Alexey K. Boyko

RANEPA, Moscow, Russia

Articles. Research
The main theoretical goal of the paper is to develop a new framework for the study of social functions of secret knowledge by establishing the relationship between types of social structure and the way of establishing asymmetry of information. The paper reconstructs the history of the confrontation between different sociological traditions regarding the understanding of secrecy and the formation of the concept of “mystery” during the course of this confrontation. By summarizing the results of empirical studies of different secret societies, we can now more explicitly trace the relationship between social morphology and the corresponding transfer mechanism of secret knowledge. Using material from anthropological research, I will demonstrate how the Durkheimian tradition of the theoretical understanding of the origin and functions of primitive religious secret societies limited our understanding of secrecy to a necessarily emotional
collective experience of the ritual. Georg Simmel’s sociology of secrecy, by employing the distinction between formal and substantive secrets, offers a more fruitful theoretical frame. This theory allows us to understand and empirically investigate secrecy as a special social form, visible in a number of specific practices of the transfer of knowledge, regardless of its hidden content.
Keywords: secret, mystery, secrecy, confidence, secret societies, Simmel, Durkheim