The Elementary Forms of Religious Life

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Definition by the ideas of "spiritual beings" and "the supernatural" thus eliminated, Durkheim turned to the construction of his own definition. In fact, there is no evidence that Australian totemism is the earliest totemism, let alone the earliest religion; and, though technically less advanced than the North American Indians, the Australians have a kinship system which is far more complex. But while Smith had an "active sentiment" of this ambiguity, Durkheim observed, he never explained it.

In addition to this primitive form of sacrifice, Durkheim discussed three other types of positive rites -- imitative, representative, and piacular -- which either accompany the or, in some tribes, replace it altogether. Henceforth, spirits are assumed to involve themselves, for good or ill, in the affairs of men, and all human events varying slightly from the ordinary are attributed to their influence. The special status of the latter thus remains untouched by any purely psychological hypothesis (cf.

Durkheim thus suggested, is a new way of taking up the old problem of the "origin of religion" itself -- not in the sense of some specific point in time and space when religion began to exist (no such point exists), but in the sense of discovering "the ever-present causes upon which the most essential forms of religious thought and practice depend. Inexplicable on the basis of ordinary experience -- nowhere do we see beings "mixing their natures" or "metamorphizing themselves into each other" -- such participation was explained by Durkheim as a consequence of the symbolic representations just described: once the clan became "represented" by a species of animal or plant, the latter were thought of as relative of men, and both were assumed to "participate in the same nature. It is this succession of intense periods of "collective effervescence" with much longer periods of dispersed, individualistic economic activity, Durkheim suggested, which gives rise to the belief that there are two worlds -- the sacred and the profane -- both within us and within nature itself. He feels within him more force, either to endure the trials of existence, or to conquer them.

The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life - Wikipedia
The Elementary Forms of Religious Life published by French sociologist Émile Durkheim in 1912, is a book that analyzes religion as a social phenomenon.
The elementary forms of religious life
The elementary forms of religious life/ Emile Durkheim; translated and with an introduction by Karen E. Fields. . cm. Translation of: Les formes élémentaires de la ...

The Elementary Forms of Religious Life: Emile Durkheim, Mark S ... The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912) - Emile Durkheim


Elementary Forms of Religious Life
The elementary forms of religious life/ Emile Durkheim; translated and with an introduction by Karen E. Fields. p. Cm. Translation of Les formes élémentaires de  ...
The Elementary Forms of Religious Life: Emile Durkheim, Mark S ...
In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912), Emile Durkheim sets himself the task of discovering the enduring source of human social identity.

Such ideas "correspond to the most universal properties of things. The primitive, in any case, does not regard such forces as superior to his own; on the contrary, he thinks he can manipulate them to his own advantage by the exercise of certain religious rites. The souls, in their turn, are only the form taken by the impersonal forces which we found at the basis of totemism, as they individualize themselves in the human body.

Durkheim attributes the development of religion to the emotional security attained through communal living. But if Durkheim's goal was thus to understand modern man, why did he go to the very beginning of history? How can the crude cults of the Australian aborigines tell us anything about religions far more advanced in value, dignity, and truth? And if he insisted that they can, wasn't he suggesting that Christianity, for example, proceeds from the same primitive mentality as the Australian cults? These questions were important, for Durkheim recognized that scholars frequently focused on primitive religions in order to discredit their modern counterparts, and he rejected this "Voltairean" hostility to religion for two reasons. Previous efforts to solve this problem, he began, represent one of two philosophical doctrines: the doctrine that the categories are constructed out of human experience, and that the individual is the artisan of this construction, and the doctrine that the categories are logically prior to experience, and are inherent in the nature of the human intellect itself.

But that which is indispensable is also that which is essential, that is to say, that which we must know before all else. But one might still object that, since the categories are mere representations of social realities, there is no guarantee of their correspondence to any of the realities of nature; thus we would return, by a different route, to a more skeptical nominalism and empiricism. Third, and more specifically, the very idea of the "supernatural" logically presupposes its contrary -- the idea of a "natural order of things" or "natural law" -- to which the supernatural event or entity is presumably a dramatic exception; but the idea of natural law, Durkheim again suggested, is a still more recent conception than that of the distinction between religious and physical forces. But Frazer's work was purely descriptive, making no effort to understand or explain the most fundamental aspects of totemism.

The Elementary Forms of Religious Life
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