Weber and Durkheims theories about the source/origins and social bearing of religion

Topics: Sociology, Religion, Émile Durkheim Pages: 7 (2111 words) Published: April 19, 2014
Both Durkheim and Weber have theories about the origins/source and the social bearing of religion that differ from one another respectively. Durkheim focuses more on the effects of religion as a group activity while Weber focused on the individual and their relationship with their God. Durkheim played more emphasis on the moral role while Weber focused on the economic effects. Through the course of this essay we will be comparing and contrasting each of their theories concluding with why I feel Weber to have the more persuasive account. Durkheim in his study highlights the social role religion plays in society. Durkheim being a functionalist sees religion as having distinct social roles. The first is that it provides social cohesion to help maintain social solidarity through shared rituals and beliefs. Secondly, it provides social control to enforce religious based morals and norms to help maintain conformity and control in society. And last but not least it offers meaning and purpose to answer any existential question. Durkheim wanted to ‘find a means of discerning the ever present causes upon which the most essential forms of religious thought and practice depend’ (Thompson, page 107). He was interested in the problem of what held complex modern societies together. Religion, for him was an expression of social cohesion. He saw ‘the first systems of representations with which men had pictured themselves of the world and they were of religious origin’ (Thompson, page 107). Further, for Durkheim ‘religion is something eminently social. Religious representations are collective representations, which express collective realities. The rites are a manner of acting which take rise in the midst of the assembled groups and which are destined to excite maintain or recreate certain mental states in these groups’. (Thompson, page 108). Durkheim focused on the moral effects of religion on real life social behavior and for him religious rituals had a very conditioning effect on the individual, which made the individual feel apart of the group, they were in. Thus, religion was something that created the moral base of society and it was what held society together on a more fundamental level. Religious rites are a manner of acting which take rise in the midst of the assembled groups and which are destined to excite maintain certain states in these groups. ‘All known religious beliefs, whether simple or complex, present one common characteristic they pre suppose a classification of all the things, real and ideal, of which men think into two classes or opposed groups, generally designated by two distinct terms which are translated well enough by the words profane and sacred’ (Thompson, page 109). The division of the world in two domains of sacred and profane is the distinctive trait of all religious thought. The beliefs, myths dogmas and legends are either representations or they are systems of representations which express the nature of sacred things the virtues and powers which are attributed to them or their relations with each other and with profane things. Religion was the practices and beliefs pertaining to the ‘sacred’. ‘ Sacred things are those which the interdictions protect and isolate; profane those to which these interdictions are applied and which must remain at a distance from the first. Religious beliefs are the representations, which express the nature of sacred things, and the relations whom they sustain both with each other and with profane things’ (Thompson, page 110). He knew members of the community adopt a common religion and tend to think/act the same way where ‘unified system of beliefs and practices that related to sacred things’ (Thompson, page 110). Through sharing common beliefs and engaging in repetitive group ritual and activity the morals that are required for restraint through religion are maintained. It was the frenzy created by group ritual that internalized and socialized...
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