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David Emile Durkheim

Elementary Forms of the Religious Life

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The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, 1965, [1912], Translated by Joseph Ward Swain, New York: The Free Press.


From the Publisher:

A problem that has aroused the interest of philosophers in all ages--a problem of interest to all humanity--concerns the definition of the origin and nature of religion.

In this classic study of primitive religion, Emile Durkheim, one of the founders of modern sociology, examines religion in society in terms of animism, naturism, totemism, myth, and ritual.  Thus he takes up again the question of the origin of religion, which for him means discerning the everpresent elements that underlie the essential forms of religious thought and practice.

Durkheim's choice of archaic religion as a frame of reference for the analysis and explanation of all religion was not irrelevant.  Rather, it seemed to him the one approach best adapted, not only to ultimate understanding of the religious nature of man, but also to illuminating an essential and permanent aspect of humanity.

The author concludes that religion, philosophy, and morals can be understood only as products of the social condition of man: that the source of religion and morality is in the collective mind of society and not inherent in the isolated minds of individuals.

His methods and conclusions must be grasped by anyone seeking understanding of the bases of religion and society.

Table of Contents:

Introduction/Religious Sociology and the Theory of Knowledge

Book 1/Preliminary Questions
1  Definition of Religious Phenomena and of Religion
2  Leading Conceptions of the Elementary Religion
3  Leading Conceptions (continued)
4  Totemism as an Elementary Religion

Book 2/ The Elementary Beliefs
1  Totemic Beliefs
2  Totemic Beliefs (continued)
3  Totemic Beliefs (continued)
4  Totemic Beliefs (end)
5  Origins of these Beliefs
6  Origins of these Beliefs (continued)
7  Origins of these Beliefs (end)
8  The Idea of the Soul
9  The Idea of Spirits and Gods

Book 3/The Principal Ritual Attitudes
1  The Negative Cult and its Functions
2  The Positive Cult
3  The Positive Cult (continued)
4  The Positive Cult (continued)
5  Piacular Rites and the Ambiguity of the Notions of Sacredness