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ELEMENTARY FORMS OF RELIGIOUS LIFE ***




Produced by Ruth Morrison, Tor Martin Kristiansen and the
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THE ELEMENTARY FORMS OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE




EMILE DURKHEIM

_The Elementary Forms
of the
Religious Life_


TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH BY
JOSEPH WARD SWAIN
M.A.


_LONDON_
GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN LTD
RUSKIN HOUSE MUSEUM STREET




FIRST PUBLISHED IN 1915
SECOND IMPRESSION 1926
THIRD IMPRESSION 1954
FOURTH IMPRESSION 1957
FIFTH IMPRESSION 1964

_This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private
study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under
the Copyright Act, 1956, no portion may be reproduced
by any process without written permission. Enquiry
should be made to the publisher._

_© George Allen & Unwin Ltd. 1915_

PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN
BY HOLLEN STREET PRESS LTD
LONDON W.1




CONTENTS


INTRODUCTION

SUBJECT OF OUR STUDY: RELIGIOUS SOCIOLOGY AND THE THEORY OF
KNOWLEDGE
PAGE
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 1

II. - Secondary subject of research: the genesis of the
fundamental notions of thought or the categories - Reasons for
believing that their origin is religious and consequently
social - How a way of restating the theory of knowledge is
thus seen 9


BOOK I

PRELIMINARY QUESTIONS


CHAPTER I

DEFINITION OF RELIGIOUS PHENOMENA AND OF RELIGION

Usefulness of a preliminary definition of religion; method to be
followed in seeking this definition - Why the usual definitions
should be examined first 23

I. - Religion defined by the supernatural and mysterious -
Criticism: the notion of mystery is not primitive 24

II. - Religion defined in connection with the idea of God or a
spiritual being. - Religions without gods - Rites in deistic
religions which imply no idea of divinity 29

III. - Search for a positive definition - Distinction between
beliefs and rites - Definition of beliefs - First characteristic:
division of things between sacred and profane - Distinctive
characteristics of this definition - Definition of rites in
relation to beliefs - Definition of religion 36

IV. - Necessity of another characteristic to distinguish magic
from religion - The idea of the Church - Do individualistic
religions exclude the idea of a Church? 42


CHAPTER II

LEADING CONCEPTIONS OF THE ELEMENTARY RELIGION

I. - _Animism_

Distinction of animism and naturism 48

I. - The three theses of animism: Genesis of the idea of the soul;
Formation of the idea of spirits; Transformation of the cult of
spirits into the cult of nature 49

II. - Criticism of the first thesis - Distinction of the idea of
the soul from that of a double - Dreams do not account for the
idea of the soul 55

III. - Criticism of the second thesis - Death does not explain the
transformation of a soul into a spirit - The cult of the souls
of the dead is not primitive 60

IV. - Criticism of the third thesis - The anthropomorphic
instinct - Spencer's criticism of it; reservations on this
point - Examination of the facts by which this instinct is
said to be proved - Difference between a soul and the spirits
of nature - Religious anthropomorphism is not primitive 65

V. - Conclusion: animism reduces religion to nothing more than
a system of hallucinations 68


CHAPTER III

LEADING CONCEPTIONS OF THE ELEMENTARY RELIGION - (_continued_)

II. - _Naturism_

History of the theory 71

I. - Exposition of Max Müller's naturism 73

II. - If the object of religion is to express natural forces, it
is hard to see how it has maintained itself, for it expresses
them in an erroneous manner - Pretended distinction between
religion and mythology 78

III. - Naturism does not explain the division of things into
sacred and profane 84


CHAPTER IV

TOTEMISM AS AN ELEMENTARY RELIGION

I. - Brief history of the question of totemism 88

II. - Reasons of method for which our study will be given
specially to the totemism of Australia - The place which
will be given to facts from America 93


BOOK II

THE ELEMENTARY BELIEFS


CHAPTER I

TOTEMIC BELIEFS

_The Totem as Name and as Emblem_

I. - Definition of the clan - The totem as name of the clan - Nature
of the things which serve as totems - Ways in which the totem is
acquired - The totems of phratries; of matrimonial classes 102

II. - The totem as emblem - Totemic designs engraved or carved upon
objects; tatooings or designs upon the body 113

III. - Sacred character of the totemic emblem - The churinga - The
nurtunja - The waninga - Conventional character of totemic emblems 119


CHAPTER II

TOTEMIC BELIEFS - (_continued_)

_The Totemic Animal and Man_

I. - Sacred character of the totemic animals - Prohibition to
eat them, kill them or pick the totemic plants - Different
moderations given these prohibitions - Prohibition of
contact - The sacred character of the animal is less marked
than that of the emblem 128

II. - The man - His relationship with the totemic animal or
plant - Different myths explaining this relationship - The sacred
character of the man is more apparent in certain parts of the
organism: the blood, hair, etc. - How this character varies with
sex and age - Totemism is not plant or animal worship 134


CHAPTER III

TOTEMIC BELIEFS - (_continued_)

_The Cosmological System of Totemism and the Idea of Class_

I. - The classification of things into clans, phratries and classes 141

II. - Genesis of the notion of class: the first classifications of
things take their forms from society - Differences between the
sentiment of the differences of things and the idea of class -
Why this is of social origin 144

III. - Religious significance of these classifications: all of
the things classified into a clan partake of the nature of the
totem and its sacred character - The cosmological system of
totemism - Totemism as the tribal religion 148


CHAPTER IV

TOTEMIC BELIEFS - (_end_)

_The Individual Totem and the Sexual Totem_

I. - Individual totem as a forename; its sacred character -
Individual totem as personal emblem - Bonds between the man and
his individual totem - Relations with the collective totem 157

II. - The totems of sexual groups - Resemblances and differences
with the collective and individual totems - Their tribal nature 165


CHAPTER V

ORIGINS OF THESE BELIEFS

_Critical Examination of Preceding Theories_

I. - Theories which derive totemism from a previous religion: from
the ancestor cult (Wilken and Tylor); from the nature cult
(Jevons) - Criticism of these theories 168

II. - Theories which derive collective totemism from individual
totemism - Origins attributed by these theories to the
individual totem (Frazer, Boas, Hill Tout) - Improbability
of these hypotheses - Reasons showing the priority of the
collective totem 172

III. - Recent theory of Frazer: _conceptional_ and local
totemism - The begging of the question upon which it rests - The
religious character of the totem is denied - Local totemism is
not primitive 180

IV. - Theory of Lang: that the totem is only a name - Difficulties
in explaining the religious character of totemic practices from
this point of view 184

V. - All these theories explain totemism only by postulating other
religious notions anterior to it 186


CHAPTER VI

ORIGINS OF THESE BELIEFS - (_continued_)

_The Notion of the Totemic Principle, or Mana, and the Idea of
Force_

I. - The notion of the totemic force or principle - Its ubiquity -
Its character at once physical and moral 188

II. - Analogous conceptions in other inferior societies - The gods
in Samoa, the wakan of the Sioux, the orenda of the Iroquois,
the mana of Melanesia - Connection of these notions with
totemism - The Arunkulta of the Arunta 191

III. - Logical priority of impersonal force over the different
mythical personalities - Recent theories which tend to admit
this priority 198

IV. - The notion of religious force is the prototype of that of
force in general 203


CHAPTER VII

ORIGINS OF THESE BELIEFS - (_end_)

_Origin of the Idea of the Totemic Principle or Mana_

I. - The totemic principle is the clan, but thought of under a
more empirical form 205

II. - General reasons for which society is apt to awaken the
sensation of the sacred and the divine - Society as an
imperative moral force; the notion of moral authority - Society
as a force which raises the individual outside of himself -
Facts which prove that society creates the sacred 206

III. - Reasons peculiar to Australian societies - The two phases
through which the life of these societies alternatively passes:
dispersion, concentration - Great collective effervescence
during the periods of concentration - Examples - How the
religious idea is born out of this effervescence 214

Why collective force has been thought of under totemic forms: it
is the totem that is the emblem of the clan - Explanation of the
principal totemic beliefs 219

IV. - Religion is not the product of fear - It expresses something
real - Its essential idealism - This idealism is a general
characteristic of collective mentality - Explanation of the
external character of religious forces in relation to their
subjects - The principle that _the part is equal to the whole_ 223

V. - Origin of the notion of emblem: emblems a necessary condition
of collective representations - Why the clan has taken its
emblems from the animal and vegetable kingdoms 230

VI. - The proneness of the primitive to confound the kingdoms and
classes which we distinguish - Origins of these confusions - How
they have blazed the way for scientific explanations - They do
not exclude the tendency towards distinction and opposition 234


CHAPTER VIII

THE IDEA OF THE SOUL

I. - Analysis of the idea of the soul in the Australian societies 240

II. - Genesis of this idea - The doctrine of reincarnation
according to Spencer and Gillen: it implies that the soul is
a part of the totemic principle - Examination of the facts
collected by Strehlow; they confirm the totemic nature of
the soul 246

III. - Generality of the doctrine of reincarnation - Diverse facts
in support of the proposed genesis 256

IV. - Antithesis of the soul and the body: what there is objective
in this - Relations of the individual soul with the collective
soul - The idea of the soul is not chronologically after that
of mana 262

V. - Hypothesis to explain the belief in its survival 267

VI. - The idea of a soul and the idea of a person; impersonal
elements in the personality 269


CHAPTER IX

THE IDEA OF SPIRITS AND GODS

I. - Difference between a soul and a spirit - The souls of the
mythical ancestors are spirits, having determined functions -
Relations between the ancestral spirit, the individual soul
and the individual totem - Explanation of this latter - Its
sociological significance 273

II. - Spirits and magic 281

III. - The civilizing heroes 283

IV. - The great gods - Their origin - Their relations with the
totemic system - Their tribal and international character 285

V. - Unity of the totemic system 295


BOOK III

THE PRINCIPAL RITUAL ATTITUDES


CHAPTER I

THE NEGATIVE CULT AND ITS FUNCTIONS

THE ASCETIC RITES

I. - The system of interdictions - Magic and religious
interdictions - Interdictions between sacred things of different
sorts - Interdictions between sacred and profane - These latter
are the basis of the negative cult - Leading types of these
interdictions; their reduction to two essential types 299

II. - The observance of interdictions modifies the religious state
of individuals - Cases where this efficacy is especially
apparent: ascetic practices - The religious efficacy of sorrow -
Social function of asceticism 309

III. - Explanation of the system of interdictions: antagonism of
the sacred and the profane, contagiousness of the sacred 317

IV. - Causes of this contagiousness - It cannot be explained by
the laws of the association of ideas - It is because religious
forces are outside of their subjects - Logical interest in this
property of religious forces 321


CHAPTER II

THE POSITIVE CULT

I. - _The Elements of Sacrifice_

The Intichiuma ceremony in the tribes of Central Australia -
Different forms which it presents 326

I. - The Arunta Form - The two phases - Analysis of the first: visit
to sacred places, scattering of sacred dust, shedding of blood,
etc., to assure the reproduction of the totemic species 327

II. - Second phase: ritual consumption of the totemic plant or
animal 333

III. - Interpretation of the complete ceremony - The second rite
consists in a communion meal - Reason for this communion 336

IV. - The rites of the first phase consists in oblations - Analogies
with sacrificial oblations - The Intichiuma thus contains the two
elements of sacrifice - Interest of these facts for the theory of
sacrifice 340

V. - On the pretended absurdity of sacrificial oblations - How
they are explained: dependence of sacred beings upon their
worshippers - Explanation of the circle in which sacrifice seems
to move - Origin of the periodicity of positive rites 344


CHAPTER III

THE POSITIVE CULT - (_continued_)

II. - _Imitative Rites and the Principle of Causality_

I. - Nature of the imitative rites - Examples of ceremonies where
they are employed to assure the fertility of the species 351

II. - They rest upon the principle: _like produces like_ -
Examination of the explanation of this given by the
anthropological school - Reasons why they imitate the animal
or plant - Reasons for attributing a physical efficacy to these
gestures - Faith - In what sense it is founded upon experience -
The principles of magic are born in religion 355

III. - The preceding principle considered as one of the first
statements of the principle of causality - Social conditions
upon which this latter depends - The idea of impersonal force or
power is of social origin - The necessity for the conception of
causality explained by the authority inherent in social
imperatives 362


CHAPTER IV

THE POSITIVE CULT - (_continued_)

III. - _Representative or Commemorative Rites_

I. - Representative rites with physical efficacy - Their relations
with the ceremonies already described - Their action is wholly
moral 371

II. - Representative rites without physical efficacy - They confirm
the preceding results - The element of recreation in religion:
its importance; its reason for existence - The idea of a feast 376

III. - Ambiguity of function in the various ceremonies studied;
they substitute themselves for each other - How this ambiguity
confirms the theory proposed 383


CHAPTER V

PIACULAR RITES AND THE AMBIGUITY OF THE NOTION OF SACREDNESS

Definition of the piacular rite 389

I. - Positive rites of mourning - Description of these rites 390

II. - How they are explained - They are not a manifestation of
private sentiments - The malice attributed to the souls of the
dead cannot account for them either - They correspond to the
state of mind in which the group happens to be - Analysis of
this state - How it ends by mourning - Corresponding changes in
the way in which the souls of the dead are conceived 396

III. - Other piacular rites; after a public mourning, a poor
harvest, a drought, the southern lights - Rarity of these rites
in Australia - How they are explained 403

IV. - The two forms of the sacred: the pure and the impure - Their
antagonism - Their relationship - Ambiguity of the idea of the
sacred - All rites present the same character 409


CONCLUSION

To what extent the results obtained may be generalized 415

I. - Religion rests upon an experience that is well founded but
not privileged - Necessity of a science to reach the reality at
the bottom of this experience - What is this reality? - The human
groups - Human meaning of religion - Concerning the objection
which opposes the ideal society to the real society 416

How religious individualism and cosmopolitanism are explained in
this theory 424

II. - The eternal element in religion - Concerning the conflict
between science and religion; it has to do solely with the
speculative side of religion - What this side seems destined to
become 427

III. - How has society been able to be the source of logical,
that is to say conceptual, thought? Definition of the concept:
not to be confounded with the general idea; characterized by
its impersonality and communicability - It has a collective
origin - The analysis of its contents bears witness in the same
sense Collective representations as types of ideas which
individuals accept - In regard to the objection that they are
impersonal only on condition of being true - Conceptual thought
is coeval with humanity 431

IV. - How the categories express social things - The chief category
is the concept of totality which could be suggested only by
society - Why the relations expressed by the categories could
become conscious only in society - Society is not an a-logical
being - How the categories tend to detach themselves from
geographically determined groups 439

The unity of science on the one hand, and of morals and religion
on the other - How the society accounts for this unity -
Explanation of the rôle attributed to society: its creative
power - Reactions of sociology upon the science of man 445




THE ELEMENTARY FORMS OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE




INTRODUCTION

SUBJECT OF OUR STUDY: RELIGIOUS SOCIOLOGY AND THE THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE


In this book we propose to study the most primitive and simple religion
which is actually known, to make an analysis of it, and to attempt an
explanation of it. A religious system may be said to be the most
primitive which we can observe when it fulfils the two following
conditions: in the first place, when it is found in a society whose
organization is surpassed by no others in simplicity;[1] and secondly,
when it is possible to explain it without making use of any element
borrowed from a previous religion.

We shall set ourselves to describe the organization of this system with
all the exactness and fidelity that an ethnographer or an historian
could give it. But our task will not be limited to that: sociology
raises other problems than history or ethnography. It does not seek to
know the passed forms of civilization with the sole end of knowing them
and reconstructing them. But rather, like every positive science, it has
as its object the explanation of some actual reality which is near to
us, and which consequently is capable of affecting our ideas and our
acts: this reality is man, and more precisely, the man of to-day, for
there is nothing which we are more interested in knowing. Then we are
not going to study a very archaic religion simply for the pleasure of
telling its peculiarities and its singularities. If we have taken it as
the subject of our research, it is because it has seemed to us better
adapted than any other to lead to an understanding of the religious
nature of man, that is to say, to show us an essential and permanent
aspect of humanity.

But this proposition is not accepted before the raising of strong
objections. It seems very strange that one must turn back, and be
transported to the very beginnings of history, in order to arrive at an
understanding of humanity as it is at present. This manner of procedure
seems particularly paradoxical in the question which concerns us. In
fact, the various religions generally pass as being quite unequal in
value and dignity; it is said that they do not all contain the same
quota of truth. Then it seems as though one could not compare the
highest forms of religious thought with the lowest, without reducing the
first to the level of the second. If we admit that the crude cults of
the Australian tribes can help us to understand Christianity, for
example, is that not supposing that this latter religion proceeds from
the same mentality as the former, that it is made up of the same
superstitions and rests upon the same errors? This is how the
theoretical importance which has sometimes been attributed to primitive
religions has come to pass as a sign of a systematic hostility to all
religion, which, by prejudging the results of the study, vitiates them
in advance.

There is no occasion for asking here whether or not there are scholars
who have merited this reproach, and who have made religious history and
ethnology a weapon against religion. In any case, a sociologist cannot
hold such a point of view. In fact, it is an essential postulate of
sociology that a human institution cannot rest upon an error and a lie,
without which it could not exist. If it were not founded in the nature
of things, it would have encountered in the facts a resistance over
which it could never have triumphed. So when we commence the study of
primitive religions, it is with the assurance that they hold to reality
and express it; this principle will be seen to re-enter again and again
in the course of the analyses and discussions which follow, and the



Online LibraryEmile DurkheimThe elementary forms of the religious life, a study in religious sociology → online text (page 1 of 53)