Sacred–profane dichotomy  

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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), Durkheim, tr. Joseph Ward Swain

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

French sociologist Émile Durkheim considered the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane to be the central characteristic of religion (see left).

In Durkheim's theory, the sacred represented the interests of the group, especially unity, which were embodied in sacred group symbols, or totems. The profane, on the other hand, involved mundane individual concerns. Durkheim explicitly stated that the dichotomy sacred/profane was not equivalent to good/evil. The sacred could be good or evil, and the profane could be either as well.

Criticism

Durkheim's claim of the universality of this dichotomy for all religions/cults has been criticized by scholars like British anthropologist Jack Goody. Goody also noted that "many societies have no words that translate as sacred or profane and that ultimately, just like the distinction between natural and supernatural, it was very much a product of European religious thought rather than a universally applicable criterion."

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Sacred–profane dichotomy" 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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