The Elementary Forms of Religious Life - The Elementary...

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The Elementary Forms of Religious Life Durkheim’s last book Written 101 years ago Introduction In the period of time that Durkheim was writing, the thinking was dominated by Evolutionists (Charles Darwin) o Arguing that all life on Earth evolves o Lower forms, higher forms, stages of development Evolutionism was associated with colonialism we advanced people have a right to instruct (governing, ruling) less primitive people o Evolutionism was believed to be progressive Evolutionary school of thought was criticized after WWI because there was not enough evidence all speculation o This link between progress and evolution was no longer supported and as firm as progress meant many people were dying Social scientists (Frank Bouaz) began to focus on specific groups and how they are organized Durkheim was an evolutionist Durkheim introduces simple and complex societies simple and complex religions Why did Durkheim think it was necessary to focus on the elementary forms (the simple building blocks simple tools) of life? o Why did he want to look at complexity vs. simplicity? o He believed in the so called higher religions (more dominant religious) that too many heterogeneous factors where in play, if we could find a society that was more simple it would be clearer to see the building blocks o So he turned to the reports of anthropologists of his own day who had experiences in Australia (amongst indigenous people) and to some degree people in North America What is a symbol? o Something that stands for something else o One of the central elements for religion for Durkheim is something that can engage in symbolism o People confuse the symbol for that which the symbol stands for o Ex. a flag In battle, soldiers will literally die for a flag a piece of cloth Its not the actual cloth that people die for, but what it stands for the symbolic value Religion for Durkheim has a powerful symbolic value o He wants to look at what the symbol stands for, what it represents One of his tasks in the book is to show how the symbol both shows, and hides the reality of which the symbol represents o People who are true believers confuse the symbol for what it represents
Therefore he believes that all religions are true because if you go beneath the symbol (rites and myths), you can discover what the basis of reality is – of what those myths and rites are o How can they all be true if they contradict one another? o Durkheim says that its only on the surface that they contradict each other, but when we go beneath the surface they are the same However he believes that they can be placed in a hierarchy o Some may be complex, some may be simple, but that are all equally religious just as all living beings are living What he is looking for in The Elementary Forms of Life is the common building blocks o What is absolutely necessary for religion to be religion

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