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Through an examination of the world these elements constitute, he is able to argue that religion originates in social life and in the most fundamental capacities of human intellect. His analysis is a model of rich comparison, analytic clarity, and open-minded inquiry. At long last, sociologist and religious scholar Karen Fields offers a much-needed new translation, with an illuminating introduction, that will restore Durkheim's work to its original brilliance and gain the respect accorded the very best translations of other key works by this author.

The Elementary Forms of Religious Life: a turning point in Durkheimian sociology?

At the end of our century, as so many people ask fundamental questions about the sacred, and as social science itself faces a methodological crisis of confidence, there can be no better source of answers, as well as models of analysis, than Durkheim's text. Fields Oxford world's classics. These sacred things could be any object or ritual — a rock, a cross, prayer — it is not the nature of the object that sets it apart as sacred, but the meaning, ritual, and separateness attached to the sacred.

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The sacred object may become what Durkheim calls a totem — an object symbolic of the sacred — for believers, it is endowed with meaning, but Durkheim argues that the meaning comes from the believers, the clan, or the group. Things that are not sacred are profane or secular — the everyday objects and work that are necessary to existence and which are not regarded as separate or sacred. In order to move from the secular to the sacred, there may be purifying rituals or ceremonies that separate the sacred and profane.

For Durkheim, the sacred comes from the society, from the members of the society who collectively believe the object or ritual to be sacred and endow it with meaning.


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Durkheim considered religion to be key in modern societies with organic solidarity, but regarded other ideas and institutions, such as education and the state as also important for socialization and solidarity. Durkheim argued that much penal law was religious in origin and, as evidence he cites the examples from India, Judaea, Rome, and Egypt Division , One reason for this is that religion is social, something that emerges in a social group or society and is devoted to pursuit of ends that are not entirely individual. In addition, religious ideals and values tend to constrain the individual, or at least suggest or require actions that guide the individual.

Since religion is social, and the rules that are part of religion are developed by society as a whole, offence against them affects all members of the society.


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As a result, religious teachings and sanctions are essentially penal in nature. Further, even when penal law is no longer strictly religious, its origin and nature is reflective of religious sentiments, that is, the collective origins of this law have a religious overtone.

Interestingly, Durkheim associates some of these feelings and actions as communistic, that is collective possession and use of property, sharing and using things in common with other members of the society.

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Examples of sacred, profane or secular, rituals, and purification today could include sporting events, national anthems, and national holidays. Think about how these might be related to social solidarity today. Gender Relations.

They argue that he opposed feminist ideas since they threatened social solidarity. In his approach to issues of sex, gender, and family, he was typical of nineteenth century writers who divided the world into society and the natural. Men were part of the division of labour, society, and social solidarity, while women were considered outside this public sphere, primarily involved in a private sphere — household and family — and more natural and less affected by the tensions, individuality, and problems of modern society.

From this perspective, the proper role for women was to ensure that that they carried out the emotional and affective functions required by children and others in society. Durkheim addressed issues of gender relations by arguing the initial relative equality and similarity of men and women in traditional societies with mechanical solidarity gave way to greater differentiation as societies became more modern. This was accompanied by the development of stronger families with a patriarchal form of organization — rule by the father or senior male.

Later, conjugal families, based on partners coming together, becomes the modern form. Durkheim viewed families as an important institution in maintaining and strengthening social solidarity, especially for men. This may be because he regarded men as more affected by the division of labour, individualism, and different interests — men required and institution such as the family to help integrate them into society.

We will see that Parsons had a similar view. With respect to suicide, Durkheim argued that marriage was more favourable to men than to women — it reduced male suicide rates but increased those for females. Regardless of this, Durkheim favoured monogamous marriage and opposed divorce, that is, he regarded the positive effects of marriage and the family as an important force in maintaining and promoting social solidarity and a moral society. Especially important was the importance of monogamous marriage for the benefit of children and their upbringing and socialization.

Durkheim accepted the findings of Dr.

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Durkheim was always in search of a sociological explanation of phenomena in other parts of the social world, but in his analysis of sex and gender relationships, he seemed to fall back on what he perceived to be biological differences between the sexes. He appears to have had little ability to escape this common nineteenth century view. In summary, Durkheim made few contributions to the sociology of family, gender, and gender relations, except perhaps for his analysis of how family as institution is part of a system of social solidarity.

Problems with Durkheim. Evolutionary approach. Within this, at times he seems overly optimistic about the rational, harmonious unfolding of the division of labour. His basic evaluation is that if the different parts of the division of labour are in contact with each other for a sufficiently long time, there will be cooperation or at least coexistence, and organic solidarity will emerge.

He does not consider inequalities of income, wealth, and power or alienation in jobs to be a serious problem. Social solidarity in modern society.