Saturday, March 10, 2012

Emile Durkheim – The Totemic Principle in Modern Religion – 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) Emile Durkheim claims that religion does not serve to explain external phenomena such as natural life, and that its actual role is in anchoring social reality for individuals. Since, as Durkheim argues in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, divinity is in fact society itself, religion is a conceptual system through which the individual is able to imagine himself and his community. What you feel towards the totem is in fact what you feel towards your community.

Durkheim maintains that religion in the driving force of human intellectual development, be it religious or otherwise, and that it was religion that allowed man to look beyond his sensual perception of himself and reality, and in fact attempt to explain the world. Religion paved the way to philosophy and modern science which are all dependant on social conditions.

One critique of Durkheim's totemic principle idea is that he stresses mechanisms of integration and solidarity in take on the relations between society and religion, and he ignores power relations and interests which function within society. Critical approaches (such as the Marxist tradition) feel that this element is the one missing in Durkheim's otherwise brilliant analysis of the religious sentiment and its societal origins.

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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