The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life  

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"All known religious beliefs, whether simple or complex, present one common characteristic : they presuppose 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 (profane, sacré). This division of the world into two domains, the one containing all that is sacred, the other all that is profane, is the distinctive trait of religious thought." --The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life , Durkheim (1912), tr. Joseph Ward Swain


"This is why the very idea of a religious ceremony of some importance awakens the idea of a feast. Inversely, every feast, even when it has purely lay origins, has certain characteristics of the religious ceremony, for in every case its effect is to bring men together, to put the masses into movement and thus to excite a state of effervescence, and sometimes even of delirium, which is not without a certain kinship with the religious state. A man is carried outside himself and diverted from his ordinary occupation and preoccupations. Thus the same manifestations are to be observed in each case : cries, songs, music, violent movements, dances, the search for exciteants which raise the vital level, etc. It has frequently been remarked that popular feasts lead to excesses, and cause men to lose sight of the distinction separating the licit from the illicit ; there are also religious ceremonies which make it almost necessary to violate the rules which are ordinarily the most respected. Of course this does not mean that there is no way to distinguish these two forms of public activity. The simple merry-making, the profane corrobbori, has no serious object, while, as a whole, a ritual ceremony always has an important end. Still it is to be remembered that there is perhaps no merry-making in which the serious life does not have some echo. The difference consists rather in the unequal proportions in which the two elements are combined."--The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912) by Émile Durkheim, tr. Joseph Swain


"Among the Warramunga, the final rite presents some rather particular characteristics. There seems to be no shedding of blood here, but the collective effervescence is translated in another manner."--The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912) by Émile Durkheim, tr. Joseph Swain

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse), published by French sociologist Émile Durkheim in 1912, is a book that analyzes religion as a social phenomenon. Durkheim attributes the development of religion to the emotional security attained through communal living.

According to Durkheim, early humans associated such feelings not only with one another, but with objects in their environment. This, Durkheim believed, led to the ascription of human sentiments and superhuman powers to these objects, in turn leading to totemism. The essence of religion, Durkheim finds, is the concept of the sacred, that being the only phenomenon which unites all religions. "A religion," writes Durkheim, "is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden - beliefs and practices which unite into a single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them." In modern societies, the individual and individual rights evolve to become the new sacred phenomena, and hence these may be called "religious" for Durkheim.

Durkheim examined religion using such examples as Pueblo Indian rain dances, the religions of aboriginal tribes in Australia, and alcoholic hallucinations. It was translated by Joseph Ward Swain (1891–1971).

"All known religious beliefs, whether simple or complex, present one common characteristic : they presuppose 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 (profane, sacré). This division of the world into two domains, the one containing all that is sacred, the other all that is profane, is the distinctive trait of religious thought.
A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden — beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them. The second element which thus finds a place in our definition is no less essential than the first ; for by showing that the idea of religion is inseparable from that of the Church, it makes it clear that religion should be an eminently collective thing. [1]

References

  • Elementary Forms Of The Religious Life: Newly Translated By Karen E. Fields. ISBN 0029079373
  • The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (Oxford World's Classics): Translated by Carol Cosman. ISBN 0199540128

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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