Durkheim on Religious

George Snedeker snedeker at SPAMconcentric.net
Sun Dec 24 09:08:45 MST 2000

the French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, argued from an Idealist point of
view that religion is a representation of society. religion was defined by
Durkheim, not by the existence of belief in God, but by the distinction
between the "sacred" and the "profane."

he concluded that religion performs two main functions: it provides for
group identity and it provides for a moral authority above the individual.
this is what might be called the "transcendental signifier." the forms of
religion might change in history, but Durkheim thought that these functions
of religion must be performed. for example, he thought that in modern
society  nationalism might replace traditional religion.

now I'm sure that people on this list will be quick to point out to me that
Durkheim is not Marx. Durkheim's theory of religion is a very conservative
one. Marx's remarks on religion presuppose that humans could move beyond the
kind of society Durkheim formulates as eternal. it is also important to
mention the conservative nature of Durkheim's substitution of nationalism
for religion. the problem is what will replace religion in socialist
societies? would there still be the need for a transcendental signifier?
what role would identity politics play?  What about the need for moral
authority above the individual? has the history of the revolutions of the
20th century answered any of these questions?


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