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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) oArguing that all life on Earth evolves oLower forms, higher forms, stages of development •Evolutionism was associated with colonialism we advanced people have a right to instruct (governing, ruling) less primitive people oEvolutionism was believed to be progressive •Evolutionary school of thought was criticized after WWI because there was not enough evidence all speculation oThis 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? oWhy did he want to look at complexity vs. simplicity?oHe 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 oSo 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?oSomething that stands for something else oOne of the central elements for religion for Durkheim is something that can engage in symbolism oPeople confuse the symbol for that which the symbol stands for oEx. 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 oHe 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 oPeople 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 oHow can they all be true if they contradict one another?oDurkheim 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 oSome 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 oWhat is absolutely necessary for religion to be religion