Saturday, March 10, 2012

Emile Durkheim – "The Genesis of the Notion of the Totemic Principle or Mana" – summary and review"

Emile Durkheim – "The Genesis of the Notion of the Totemic Principle or Mana" – summary and review" - part 1 -2 -3

Emile Durkheim's "The Genesis of the Notion of the Totemic Principle or Mana", in his important The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, explains Durkheim's idea of the totemic principle and its role in religious life.

According to Durkheim, the totem, often a plant or animal, to which a social group in attached by a supernatural force and which it considers as representing its unique is a symbolic representation of society itself.
Australian natives, which are the case-study for Durkheim's "The Genesis of the Notion of the Totemic Principle or Mana", attributed the totem with a force that exceeds the natural qualities of the animals portrayed in the totem, a force called Mana.

Durkheim uses the example of Mana to draw conclusions regarding modern social and religious phenomena. Durkheim argues that when a society worships the totem, or the divinity, it in actual fact worships itself. The divinity and the community are one, and as Durkheim put it: "the god of the clan, the totemic principle, must therefore be the clan itself, but transfigured and imagined in the physical form of the plant or animal species that serve as totems" (Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, p.154).

In the second part of "The Genesis of the Notion of the Totemic Principle or Mana" Durkheim discussed the formation of identification between sacred objects and the community. For Durkheim, the importance of the totem or god does not rest with their metaphysical traits but rather with their material representation of society. Durkheim compares the relationship between the worshipper and his god to the relation between the individual and society. Both god and society hold an abiding force over the individual, in that they shape his actions and feelings. The individual is aware of something other than him and outside of him which existed before him and will linger after he is gone. This is, for Durkheim, a moral force which induces a mental state. Religion is society's way to enforce on its members adherence to itself, and as Durkheim puts it: "the emblem is not only a convenient method of clarifying society's awareness of itself, it actually creates this feeling".

Suggested additional reading by and on Emile Durkheim

Emile Durkheim – "The Genesis of the Notion of the Totemic Principle or Mana" – summary and review" - part 1 -2 -3  

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