Tag Archives: sacred

Blog #2- Durkheim and Religion

Blog #2

According to Emilie Durkheim, religion is the functional theory of society.  Durkheim defines religion as a ‘unified (Solitaire) system of beliefs and practices related to sacred things, that to say, things set apart and are forbidden beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a ‘church’.  This theory serves the purpose in society of social solidary which, is focused on “what holds us together” as a society.  Durkheim does not argue that religion creates society.  He would say religion is the basis for uniting people.   Under his theory, individuals are encouraged to gather together and permits reinforcement of our beliefs.  It also serves the purpose of authority figures such as Doctors or law enforcements.   In order words, it allows people to socialize.

Durkheim would say that it is critical if all religions divide the world into two classes or to distinct kinds known as Sacred and Profane.  Durkheim wants to understand what is common in religion throughout time and in different places. One way to help him understand this phenomenal is by studying the simplest religion called Australian Totemism.  It is his belief system that the fundamental separation between the sacred and the profane is most clear.  Australian Totemism is recognized as supernatural divinities that are not essential to religion.  He made the following statement to better understand his idea:

If all history of human thoughts exists, there are no examples of two categories of things so profoundly differentiated or so radically opposed to one another.  The traditional of good and bad is nothing beside this…while the sacred and profane have always and everywhere have been conceived by the human mind as two distinct classes, as two worlds between which, there is nothing in common…” (P. 138).

To Durkheim, sacred class consists of something that “separate and protect things”. In other words, things that has a meaning with rules and instructions on how one should utilize something.  For example, children are the core of a family.  They grow up to be the next generation.  In today’s society, few people do not consider children to be sacred.  A lot of crimes involving children are committed daily such as kidnapping and sexual abuse and neglect.  In reference to Durkheim’s second distinct class, Profane, he would say that this category is all that is not sacred such as the everyday matters.



Blog #4: The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (Durkheim)

ImageDurkheim explains the moral of religion. Durkheim use religion to distinct from the whole belief that religion has to be part of everyone’s life but it has to part of society to exist. Durkheim states that if there is no religion in a society there is not type of foundation to have a society and it the society will easily crumble because in society people must have a belief that this is what I can do for the future of your family (society). He mentioned that the celebration of religion was worshipping social life and that in any society has religion. Also Durkheim states that believing in god and spirits or just worship is the force of social group and over an individual. What I believe that Durkheim was trying to imply that religion is the beginning of the social structure and the self (what an individual going to do in that society, decisions and what they are going to be). In addition Durkheim is actually trying to say that the greater power is not religion but society itself.

Durkheim states that religion is not a “churchly” or institutional things but a symbol of which people in the community believes in. People must feel that they are part of a group which they feel reaffirm to the rules in that society. Durkheim mentioned about ritual which is part of the function of religion that is taken part of some people socialization in the society. He mentioned about communion how it has historical and the participation of being in a group of other people who believes in the same system as you do. The people that are involve in an communion event is showing an identity as a whole community such as, Independence Day or praying.

As I can see, Durkheim central idea that he is trying to portray is the practice and the experience that shape the person independence that they are going to be in society. In addition their experience and their focus (dedication) of the ritual of their beliefs will impact their future self in society. However, Durkheim mentioned about the function of communal in religion has a symbol attached. The definition that Durkheim states of symbol means that it is a representation of thoughts, ideas and meanings of the collective. An example of a symbol that I grew up with is the cross and the image of Jesus. Finally, Durkheim states that in religion there are objects are sacred. These items that are sacred is ‘above and beyond’ (Edles & Appelrouth, 137) in ordinary world. On page 146, Durkheim states “we see society constantly creating sacred things out of the ordinary ones” which is kind of true. An example would be, as mentioned in previous class, that the Virgin Mary appeared or was by the area of Fresh Meadows park and people consider that place a sacred place because of her biblical history of Jesus (Christ) mother.

In additional note, there is an author by the name of Bryan Turner who discusses Religion and Social theory and how religion involves social control for people to know the consequences. In addition, the idea of religion states that before hand there is an idea that families consists of father and mother (family unites), inheritance, and private property (Turner, 8 [PDF]).


Edles, Laura and Appelrouth, Scott. 2010. Sociological Theory in the Classical Era: text and readings 2nd edition. Pine Forge Press Sage Publications.

Turner, Bryan S. Religion and Social Theory 2nd edition. Sage Publications. Citiy of University of New York. (FREE VERSION: http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Z_QFRewZrw0C&oi=fnd&pg=PR8&dq=societal+dependence+of+religion&ots=XbCV5lyMHP&sig=kGPi-Ra58HMfOMavx-g6HnbQCEE#v=onepage&q&f=false ; TO PURCHASE: http://www.uk.sagepub.com/booksProdDesc.nav?prodId=Book203571&utm_source=Google%2BBooks&utm_medium=Online&utm_term=Ongoing&utm_campaign=Google%2BPreview )

Durkheim’s View on Religion

Blog #2

According to Durkheim religion is a very important part of a society. He describes religion as something that society participates in by performing rituals and using different symbols. A ritual is described as a “highly routinized act” (Sociological Theory in the Classical Era p. 135) which is carried out with a degree of reverence. For example, the activities that take place on Independence Day (in America)occurs every year on July 4th and there is a certain patriotic feeling that comes along with celebrating this holiday. People gather together with family and friends in order to have cook outs, watch fireworks or other activities meaningful to them.

Durkheim also describes how religion contains symbols which can be viewed as either sacred or profane. Using Independence Day as an example again, this holiday is considered to be sacred since it happens only once a year and it represents the day when America gained its independence from England. The activities that occur on Independence Day represents a time of celebration. Independence Day is also unique because spaces that are considered to be profane (not sacred places) such as parks, open fields, backyards, etc. are converted to a sacred area where festivities can occur. This shows that religion overall is not an individual system, it involves the whole society.

Blog 2: F*@king Sacred!


In his pursuit of establishing Sociology as a separate academic discipline, Emile Durkheim provided interesting, and novel, theories related to society and social phenomena. Many of the students in this class have already commented about Durkheim’s fascinating conceptions of both crime and suicide. I too began to think hard about these topics, and found myself nodding along as I read what initially struck me as oxymoronic stances. Crime is necessary for society? Suicide is in fact a collective phenomenon and not an individual one? Durkheim’s thorough analyses of both topics, and the way he carefully lays out his ideas as he builds toward his larger points, are nothing short of masterful. But rather than simply praising the man often referred to as “ED” in our class slides, I would like to look at the most recent aspect of society that we have read about, Religion.

It seems to me that Durkheim is most fascinating when he appears to be paradoxical, and his thoughts on religion do not lack that quality. Although you might not believe it to be true, Durkheim maintains that social life is inherently religious. There is no difference between an act deemed “religious” and one deemed “secular.” While this distinction doesn’t appear to exist for Durkheim, his theories on religion rest on one key societal division that relates to religion. This dichotomy, and the one that we spoke extensively about in class, is what Durkheim asserts is the dichotomy that is the source of all others within society, that of the sacred and the profane.

I don’t know about everyone else, but when I hear the term “profane” I think of profanity, and foul language. I happen to love etymology and the source of words, so this dichotomy had me wondering about why foul language is referred to by this term. For Durkheim, “sacred” refers to something apart from the everyday world, something that should be protected because of some value that it possesses. In contrast, “profane” refers to something that is every day, something that should be kept away from the “sacred.” Looking up the actual etymology of profane, it seems to come from a Latin root meaning “outside of the temple,” which fits in nicely with Durkheim’s conception. Some of the first usages of this term were in translations of the Biblical commandment to “not profane the name of the Lord,” which meant to not desecrate or render it unholy. Again, this supports Durkheim’s usage of the word, as the act of taking the Lord’s name in vain (treating it as regular vocabulary), causes something deemed “sacred” to join the ranks of mundane verbiage.

But what about profanity that the FCC cares about, the words that are the subject of comedian George Carlin’s most famous bit? Why do we categorize them with this label? It’s clearly not because they are mundane, because why else would they get censored or lead to a parent washing his child’s mouth out? Sure one could posit that their designation as “profanity” is not due to their everyday quality, but because they must be kept separate from other language. But most frequently these words, known most commonly by their first letter (or their letter amount), are peppered in with regular language. They might be used in order to punctuate and pontificate, to accentuate and emphasize, but their “natural habitat” is most certainly amongst the lexical laymen, not grouped with the verbally venerated. In fact, our treatment of “swear words” (phraseology with a related Biblical origin) seems to give them power. They may have their roots in the mundane, and most often be found with the ordinary, but they appear to have acquired a “sacred” quality, and maybe that’s part of Durkheim’s point. Our behavior towards these words is inherently religious because they serve such an important social function and social life is inherently religious. Maybe our treatment of “curse words” as something “sacred” is similar to the way we treat technology or yoga as “sacred.” It may not be as fully fleshed out as our breakdown of football’s “sacredness,” but it’s not hard to find special symbols (#$@&%!) and movements (flipping someone off) designated for these words. We all know them, and if we don’t we quickly learn. Isn’t this collective aspect a fundamental aspect of religion for Durkheim? It is definitely a provocative, if not humorous, topic to ponder over.

Curse words are holy? The profane is sacred? This all seems paradoxical, like one puzzling identity crisis, and I’d expect nothing less from Emile Durkheim.




sacredness in modern life

Durkheim’s definition of religion was a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden, beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a church. Two main things make up religions, such as rituals and symbols. Yet, when taking the idea of a sacred object or event out of the idea of religion, it is evident that sacred practices are known to us in everyday life.
Something to consider to be known as sacred are television shows. Im not talking about sitcoms or comedies, im talking about the dramas and intense hour long shows we all wait for at the end of the week. For example, the show Breaking bad has its series finale this past sunday. Not only did 11 million people watch this hour episode, but people stopped what they were doing and sat themselves infront of a television screen. As much as i love the show myself, for millions of people to be stopping their normal evening activities just to see the end of this series, makes me believe that shows like these are in fact sacred even though it has nothing to do with religion. One may also call this a ritual. Ritual can be defined as a formalized mode of behavior in which the members of a community regularly engage. With that being said, if a large group of people regularly engage in an activity at the same time, on the same day with no exceptions, according to Durkheim, i would consider this a ritual.

“This is Water: Some Thoughts Delivered on a Significant Occasion…”

As the various concepts and theories you just crammed into your heads begin to fade, fear not. Retaining this academic knowledge isn’t really the point.  It’s more about using the “toolkit” to be your own theorists as you make your way in the world.

I wanted to share one last video. It’s for the graduating seniors especially.  I think it’s the best commencement speech ever.  But it won’t speak to everyone (I know this because the last student I recommended it to didn’t think it was all that).  It’s David Foster Wallace speaking at the 2005 Kenyon College graduation. Wallace was an author whose best-known work was the 1996 novel,   Infinite Jest.  Suffering from depression for over 20 years, Wallace committed suicide by hanging himself in September 2008.

I know. You’re wondering how a clinically-depressed, suicidal writer could possibly have anything remotely inspiring or useful to say on an occasion such as this.  But he does.  He recognizes — in a very sociological way — how we construct meaning and how, more often than not, we are passive in the process, simply relying on received wisdom.  This is our “default setting.”  Learning how to adjust it, Wallace says, is the “real freedom of a real education.” “You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.”  And, contra the received wisdom of classical sociology,

[t]here is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you…. Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

The talk is titled “This is Water: Some Thoughts Delivered on a Significant Occasion about Living a Compassionate Life.”  The text is available on the Intelligent Life blog from The Economist.

Blog#6: House of Sand and Fog

The film “House of sand and fog” that we viewed in class had so much to do with what Durkeim and Weber’s key concepts were outlining so many centuries ago. When it comes to Durkeim, anomie is very apparent in the film. Anomie stresses the lack of moral regulation. Colonnel Behrani was abusive towards his wife. This made her have great anomie and she was petrified of him. Also, Behrani grabbed Kathy by the arm with great force and left a mark. He clearly lacks moral regulation.

Egoism is also present here or the lack of integration into a social group. Kathy hears her brother’s wife is pregnant and they are starting a family. Kathy feels as if her life isn’t up to speed and her husband left her so she doesn’t know where she fits within society. Also the Behrani’s aren’t sure if they are going to be deported back to Iran or not based on Officer Lester Burton’s threats. Sacred and profane issues are also present. The home is sacred to both Behrani and Kathy. The Behrani’s don’t want blood drippings or dirt in their home and Kathy doesn’t like people smoking in the home. The home connects these two different persons and it becomes their identity in a way.

Profane issues are present because they are following a routine of working and providing for themselves (the protestant ethic). Authority is also present which is Weber’s concept. The officer exercized his authority by threatening the Behrani family with deportation due to the housing situation. Class and status issues are also present. Col. Behrani is used to being of higher standing in Iran. He’s used to people adhering to his agenda. Kathy isn’t used to not having a home because she inherited this house. Both people are exemplary of Durkeim’s and Weber’s key concepts.