Religion: Durkheim vs. Weber

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Department of Sociology

NAME: Irina Bobeicã

REGISTRATION CODE: 1201807

MODULE CODE AND TITLE: SC111-4-FY, Sociology and the Modern World: Sociological Analysis I

CLASS TEACHER: Dr Carlos Gigoux

TITLE OF ESSAY: Religion: Durkheim vs. Weber

DEGREE COURSE AND YEAR: Undergraduate, First Year

ACADEMIC YEAR: 2012/2013

Compare and contrast Durkheim and Weber’s understanding of religion. Which one do you find more helpful in order to understand to role of religion in the contemporary world?

If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. – Voltaire Religion is a set of beliefs, symbols, and practices, which is based on the idea of the sacred, and which unites believers into a socio-religious community – this is how is defined ‘religion’ in the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. In order to understand its purpose in society, we need to study the origin of religion and its function. Well, we could say that religion exists since forever, at least since mankind tried to explain the extraordinary things that are happening in their lives. Durkheim argued that in the centre of religion are “things that surpass the limits of our knowledge”. He also asserts that human being define their life according to two terms: sacred and profane. The core of all religious beliefs is differentiating these two from one another. Therefore it can be said that religion is a “social institution involving beliefs and practices based upon a conception of the sacred.” (Macionis and Plummer, 2002: 462) Generally, there are two different theories in the sociology of religion, in contrast with each other : those of Durkheim and Weber. Both of them developed important statements in terms of sociology and put the foundations in understanding modern life. To enlighten the role of religion nowadays it is necessary to analyse Durkheim and Weber’s understandings. Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), was a French sociologist, a powerful intellectual force whose work was concentrated around what holds society together. Even if he published works on various disciplines, Durkheim tried to make a difference between sociology and the other subjects related to it, seeing sociology as a science in its own right. Using this new science his leading purpose was to “help France overcome its version of the general European crisis that he boldly defined as history’s greatest moral crisis”. (Stones, 2008: 77) In Durkheim’s vision, society as a whole can be seen as an entity with “an existence and power of its own beyond the life of any individual” (Macionis and Plummer; 2002: 463). Because society strongly influences its members and their actions, shaping their life, Durkheim envisions God as society hypostasized. “Society is worshiped therefore is God” – this assertion comes from Durkheim’s opinion that people, in religious life, worship the overwhelming power of their society, therefore what is celebrated must be God. Furthermore, this idea explains the transformation of particular objects into “sacred symbols of collective life” (Macionis and Plummer; 2002: 463). This object defined as sacred is named by Durkheim totem. The totem spiritually represents the power of society to bring people into a strong community. Durkheim highlighted three important functions of religion in society: social cohesion, social control and providing meaning and purpose. Social cohesion refers to religion bringing people together via shared social facts (norms, values, structures, symbols). Moreover, religion celebrates the fundamental experience of love. All the connections between people in a society, moral or emotional, are emphasized by their religious life. Social control is established through religious justification (for example the habits related to marriage and reproduction). Using religion is easier for the political system to control the masses. When Europe was in monarchy, kings used to pretend that they rule by divine right. Nowadays, political leaders are not so...
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