Elementary Form of a Religious Life

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  • Topic: Religion, Totem, Sociology of religion
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John N. Abletis| | Prof. Randolf S. David|
MA Sociology Student| | Classical Sociological Theory (Socio 271)| 2009-79293| | UPD-CSSP-Dep’t. of Sociology|
| | January 20, 2011|
| Excerpts from | |
The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life: A Study in Religious SociologyEmile Durkheim Translated from the French by Joseph Ward Sain 1926, London, George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. | Introduction: 1. “The greatest single book of the twentieth century” (Collins & Makowsky, 1998, p. 111) 2. It is “inspired by Marx’s celebrated idea that the social existence of men determines their social consciousness” (Zeitlin, 1968, p. 276). 3. “Elementary Forms is more than a study of social integration; it is also an excursion into human evolution, the sociology of knowledge, functional and causal analyses, the origin and basis of thought… [It] is thus a long, complex, and—compared with earlier works—less coherently organized book” (Turner, Beeghley, & Powers, 1995, p. 336). 4. “[His] study of religion represents the beginning of his formal work on morality. Although he had lectured on morality in his courses on education and had written several articles on morality, he saw in religion a chance to study how interaction among individuals leads to the creation of symbolic systems that (1) lace together individual actions into collective units, (2) regulate and control individual desires, and (3) attach individuals to both the symbolic and structural… facets of the social world. In the face of anomie and egoism, he thought that an understanding of religious morality in primitive social systems would throw light on how much morality could be created in modern, differentiated systems” (Ibid, p. 335). 5. “Durkheim… is interested in religion largely because he considers religion to be especially effective in developing common values—and so a very good source of integration. Durkheim’s search for an equally strong integrative force in modern society led him to see the public school system as the functional alternative to religion for the transmission of values in modern society” (Wallace & Wolf, 1986, p. 16). 6. Elementary Forms of the Religious Life has a twofold message. The first concerns his sociology of knowledge; the second, his theory of rituals (Collins, 1994, pp. 212-213).|

Contents of the Book

I. Principal subject of the book: analysis of the simplest religion known to determine the elementary forms of the religious life—Why they are more easily found and explained in the primitive religions

“Because specialization and the ideological smoke screen make it impossible to study directly the roots of religion in modern society, Durkheim addressed the issue in the context of primitive society” (Ritzer, 1992, p. 197).

Method:

Comparative Method; Emphasis on Case Studies and Ethnographic Reports

Rationale:

“In the first place, for the sociologist as for the historian, social facts vary with the social system of which they form a part; they cannot be understood when detached from it. This is why two facts which come from two different societies cannot be profitably compared merely because they seem to resemble each other; it is necessary that these societies themselves resemble each other, that is to say, that they be only varieties of the same species. The comparative method would be impossible, if social types did not exist, and it cannot be usefully applied except within a single type. What errors have not been committed for having neglected this precept! It is thus that facts have been unduly connected with each other which, in spite of exterior resemblances, really have neither the same sense nor the same importance…” (Durkheim, 1912, p. 94)

“But when he undertakes to include all sorts of societies and civilizations, one cannot know any of them with the necessary thoroughness; when he assembles facts from every country in order to compare them, he is obliged to...
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