Saturday, March 10, 2012

Emile Durkheim – the Sacred and the Profane – summary and review

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

In "The Genesis of the Notion of the Totemic Principle or Mana" (in Elementary Forms of Religious Life) sociologist Emile Durkheim uses the example of the Australian aborigines to explain the manner in which sacred or profane things are awarded their status. According to Durkheim, the aborigines divided their time between their daily activates in small groups that were predominantly concerned with meeting their survival needs, and times in which the whole clan was assembled. The excitement of these gathering led to extraordinary behavior such as dance, masks and ecstasy.

Durkheim stresses the gap between routine daily life and the exciting social events. In these ritualistic gatherings, Durkheim holds, the distinction between sacredness and profanity was formed in people's minds. Sanctity was present in other times and places, as did the religion's impositions, but its most forceful appearance was in social gatherings which led society to the idea that there are outer forces which control their lives.

For the Australian aborigines, Durkheim holds, these outer forces took the shape of the totem that served as the clan's name, symbol and "flag". For Durkheim, the symbolic meanings of the totem consolidate the sentiments invested with it in the social gathering, thus allowing them to exist even after the ritualistic gathering has concluded. This process of symbolizing is for Durkheim the genesis of religious life and the fundamental form of culture. For Durkheim, religion is the source for all other human cultural formation such as law and arts as well as material practices such as science and industry. 
      
In the fourth part of "The Genesis of the Notion of the Totemic Principle or Mana" Durkheim describes the believer's relation to the totem as a relation to "an older brother", and he rules out the notion of prunus in orbe dues fecit temor – that fear created the gods. According to Durkheim: "the primitive did not see his gods as strangers, enemies, or essentially and necessarily malevolent beings whose favour he had to curry at all costs. On the contrary, to him the gods were friends, relations and natural protectors… "jealous and trrible gods appear only later in religious development" (Durkheim,  The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, p. 169)

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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