Social conflict and even wars often result from religious disputes. . The relationship between marriage and family is an interesting topic of study to .. This type of model accounts for changes in family development, such as. Other sociological models created analogies between social change and the West's Social change in the broadest sense is any change in social relations. or, in religious terms, the fall from an original state of grace, (2) the idea of cyclic change, into different functions, and become, consequently, more interdependent. The relationship between religion and social change had been strongly debated in Durkheim, relates religion to the overall structure of the society, seeing it as.
One-directional change This type of change continues more or less in the same direction. Such change is usually cumulative and implies growth or increase, such as that of population density, the size of organizations, or the level of production.
The direction of the change could, however, be one of decrease or a combination of growth and decrease. Yet another change may be a shift from one pole to the other of a continuum—from religious to secular ways of thinking, for example. Such a change may be defined as either growth of scientific knowledge or decline of religion. The simplest type of one-directional change is linear, occurring when the degree of social change is constant over time. Another type of social change is that of exponential growthin which the percentage of growth is constant over time and the change accelerates correspondingly.
Population growth and production growth are known to follow this pattern over certain time frames. A pattern of long-term growth may also conform to a three-stage S curve. In the first phase the change is slow enough as to be almost imperceptible. Next the change accelerates.
In the third phase the rate of change slackens until it approaches a supposed upper limit. The model of the demographic transition in industrializing countries exhibits this pattern.
In the first premodern or preindustrial stage both the birth rate and the mortality rate are high, and, consequently, the population grows very slowly; then mortality decreases, and the population grows much faster; in the third stage both the birth rate and the mortality rate have become low, and population growth approaches zero. The same model has been suggested, more hypothetically, for the rates of technological and scientific change. Combined patterns of change Cyclic and one-directional changes may be observed simultaneously.
This occurs in part because short-term change tends to be cyclic while long-term change tends to follow one direction. For example, production rates of industrializing countries exhibit the pattern of short-term business cycles occurring within long-term economic development.
These patterns cannot be applied simply and easily to social reality. At best, they are approximations of social reality. Comparing the model with reality is not always possible, because reliable data are not always available. Moreover, and more important, many social processes do not lend themselves to precise quantitative measurement.
Relation between Individual and Society
Processes such as bureaucratization or secularization, for example, can be defined through changes in a certain direction, but it is hard to reach agreement on the dimensions to be measured. It remains to be seen whether long-term social change in a certain direction will be maintained.
The transformation of medieval society into the Western nations of the 20th century may be conceived in terms of several interconnected long-term one-directional changes.
Some of the more important of these changes include commercialization, increasing division of labour, growth of production, formation of nation-states, bureaucratization, growth of technology and science, secularization, urbanizationspread of literacy, increasing geographic and social mobilityand growth of organizations.
Many of these changes have also occurred in non-Western societies. Most changes did not originate in the West, but some important changes did, such as the Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism.
These changes subsequently had a strong impact on non-Western societies. Additionally, groups of people outside western Europe have been drawn into a global division of labour, with Western nation-states gaining dominance both politically and economically. The extent to which these changes are part of a global long-term social development is the central question of social evolution.
Although knowledge concerning this question is far from complete, some general trends may be hypothesized. One trend is seen in the technological innovations and advances in scientific knowledge that have harnessed natural forces for the satisfaction of human needs.
Among these innovations were the use of fire, the cultivation of plants, the domestication of animals dating from about bcethe use of metals, and the process of industrialization.
These long-term developments, combined with long-term capital accumulation, led to rising production and paved the way for population growth and increasing population density. Energy production and consumption grew, if not per capita, then at least per square mile.
Another trend stems from production methods based on the division of labour and social differentiation. The control of natural forces, and the ensuing social progress, was achieved only by utilizing the division of labour—and the corresponding specialization of knowledge—to raise productivity beyond natural limits. One consequence of this growth of productivity and technological innovationhowever, was social differentiation. More people, in other words, could specialize in activities that were not immediately necessary for survival.
Growth in the size and density of populations and increases in social differentiation heightened the interdependence of more and more people over longer distances. In hunting-and-gathering societies people were strongly interdependent within their small bands, depending on very little from outside their groups. They have had the tendency, however, to spread whenever they occurred.
For example, once the set of transformations known as the agrarian revolution had taken place anywhere in the world, their extension over the rest of the world was predictable. Societies that adopted these innovations grew in size and became more powerful. As a consequence, other societies had only three options: Something similar might be said of the Industrial Revolution and other power-enhancing innovations, such as bureaucratization and the introduction of more destructive weapons.
The example of weapons illustrates that these transformational processes should not be equated with progress in general. Explanations of social change One way of explaining social change is to show causal connections between two or more processes. This may take the form of determinism or reductionismboth of which tend to explain social change by reducing it to one supposed autonomous and all-determining causal process. A more cautious assumption is that one process has relative causal priority, without implying that this process is completely autonomous and all-determining.
What follows are some of the processes thought to contribute to social change. Natural environment Changes in the natural environment may result from climatic variations, natural disasters, or the spread of disease. For example, both worsening of climatic conditions and the Black Death epidemics are thought to have contributed to the crisis of feudalism in 14th-century Europe.
Changes in the natural environment may be either independent of human social activities or caused by them. Deforestation, erosion, and air pollution belong to the latter category, and they in turn may have far-reaching social consequences.
Demographic processes Population growth and increasing population density represent demographic forms of social change. Population growth may lead to geographic expansion of a society, military conflicts, and the intermingling of cultures.
Increasing population density may stimulate technological innovations, which in turn may increase the division of labour, social differentiation, commercialization, and urbanization.
This sort of process occurred in western Europe from the 11th to the 13th century and in England in the 18th century, where population growth spurred the Industrial Revolution. On the other hand, population growth may contribute to economic stagnation and increasing povertyas may be witnessed in several Third World countries today. Technological innovations Several theories of social evolution identify technological innovations as the most important determinants of societal change. Such technological breakthroughs as the smelting of iron, the introduction of the plow in agriculture, the invention of the steam engineand the development of the computer have had lasting social consequences.
Economic processes Technological changes are often considered in conjunction with economic processes. These include the formation and extension of markets, modifications of property relations such as the change from feudal lord-peasant relations to contractual proprietor-tenant relationsand changes in the organization of labour such as the change from independent craftsmen to factories.
Historical materialismas developed by Marx and Engels, is one of the more prominent theories that gives priority to economic processes, but it is not the only one.
Indeed, materialist theories have even been developed in opposition to Marxism. Ideas Other theories have stressed the significance of ideas as causes of social change. Weber regarded religious ideas as important contributors to economic development or stagnation; according to his controversial thesis, the individualistic ethic of Christianity, and in particular Calvinismpartially explains the rise of the capitalist spirit, which led to economic dynamism in the West. Social movements A change in collective ideas is not merely an intellectual process; it is often connected to the formation of new social movements.
This in itself might be regarded as a potential cause of social change. Examples include Jesus, Napoleon, and Hitler. Recently, however, the concept of charisma has been trivialized to refer to almost any popular figure. Political processes Changes in the regulation of violence, in the organization of the state, and in international relations may also contribute to social change.
For example, German sociologist Norbert Elias interpreted the formation of states in western Europe as a relatively autonomous process that led to increasing control of violence and, ultimately, to rising standards of self-control.
According to other theories of political revolution, such as those proposed by American historical sociologist Charles Tilly, the functioning of the state apparatus itself and the nature of interstate relations are of decisive importance in the outbreak of a revolution: Each of these processes may contribute to others; none is the sole determinant of social change. One reason why deterministic or reductionist theories are often disproved is that the method for explaining the processes is not autonomous but must itself be explained.
Moreover, social processes are often so intertwined that it would be misleading to consider them separately. For example, there are no fixed borders between economic and political processes, nor are there fixed boundaries between economic and technological processes.
Technological change may in itself be regarded as a specific type of organizational or conceptual change. The causal connections between distinguishable social processes are a matter of degree and vary over time. Mechanisms of social change Causal explanations of social change are limited in scope, especially when the subject of study involves initial conditions or basic processes.
A more general and theoretical way of explaining social change is to construct a model of recurring mechanisms of social change. Such mechanisms, incorporated in different theoretical models, include the following. Mechanisms of one-directional change: Because human beings are innovative, they add to existing knowledge, replacing less adequate ideas and practices with better ones. As they learn from mistakes, they select new ideas and practices through a trial-and-error process sometimes compared to the process of natural selection.
According to this theory, the expansion of collective knowledge and capabilities beyond a certain limit is possible only by specialization and differentiation. Growth of technical knowledge stimulates capital accumulation, which leads to rising production levels. Population growth also may be incorporated in this model of cumulative evolution: Mechanisms of curvilinear and cyclic change: More specifically, it is often assumed that growth has its limits and that in approaching these limits the change curve will inevitably be bent.
Ecological conditions such as the availability of natural resources, for instance, can limit population, economic, and organizational growth. Shorter-term cyclic changes are explained by comparable mechanisms. Some theories of the business cycle, for example, assume that the economy is saturated periodically with capital goods; investments become less necessary and less profitable, the rate of investments diminishes, and this downward trend results in a recession. After a period of time, however, essential capital goods will have to be replaced; investments are pushed up again, and a phase of economic expansion begins.
Conflictcompetition, and cooperation Group conflict has often been viewed as a basic mechanism of social change, especially of those radical and sudden social transformations identified as revolutions. Marxists in particular tend to depict social life in capitalist society as a struggle between a ruling class, which wishes to maintain the system, and a dominated class, which strives for radical change. Social change then is the result of that struggle. Arguably the most important of these thinkers for Durkheim was Wundt, who rejected methodological individualism and argued that morality was a sui generis social phenomenon that could not be reduced to individuals acting in isolation.
Early in his career Durkheim wrote dissertations about Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Montesquieu, both of whom he cited as precursors to sociology. Before this time, as in Division, Durkheim focused on how the material and morphological elements of a society affected it.
The most important of these, arguably, is Kant, whose moral and epistemological theories were of great influence. This can be partly explained by the fact that the Durkheimian school of thought was greatly reduced when many of his most promising students were killed in WWI, that Durkheim went to such great lengths to divorce sociology from philosophy, or by the fact that his thought has been, and continues to be, simplified and misunderstood.
Nevertheless, his ideas had, and continue to have, a strong impact in the social sciences, especially in sociology and anthropology. However, these thinkers never discuss Durkheim at length, or acknowledge any intellectual debt to to him. Society and the Study of Social Facts According to Durkheim, all elements of society, including morality and religion, are products of history.
As they do not have a transcendent origin and are part of the natural world, they can be studied scientifically. In particular, Durkheim viewed his sociology as the science of the genesis and functioning of institutions, with institutions being all of the beliefs and modes of conduct instituted by the collectivity. A fundamental element of this science is the sociological method, which Durkheim created specifically for this purpose.
An important corollary to the above definition is that social facts are also internal to individuals, and it is only through individuals that social facts are able to exist. In this sense, externality means interior to individuals other than the individual subject. In order to fully grasp how social facts are created and operate, it must be understood that for Durkheim, a society is not merely a group of individuals living in one particular geographical location. Rather, society is an ensemble of ideas, beliefs, and sentiments of all sorts that are realized through individuals; it indicates a reality that is produced when individuals interact with one another, resulting in the fusion of individual consciences.
It is a sui generis reality, meaning that it is irreducible to its composing parts and unable to be explained by any means other than those proper to it. In other words, society is greater than the sum of its parts; it supercedes in complexity, depth, and richness, the existence of any one particular individual and is wholly new and different from the parts that make it up. This psychic reality is sometimes although especially in Division referred to by Durkheim with the term conscience collective, which can alternately be translated into English as collective conscience or collective consciousness.
What is more, society and social phenomena can only be explained in sociological terms, as the fusion of individual consciences that, once created, follows its own laws. It cannot be explained, for example, in biological or psychological terms, or be reduced to the material forms of a society and its immediate vital necessities, as is the case in historical materialism.
Social facts are key, since they are what constitute and express the psychic reality that is society. Through them individuals acquire particular traits, such as a language, a monetary system, values, religious beliefs, tendencies for suicide, or technologies, that they would never have had living in total isolation. In Rules, Durkheim delineates two different classes of social facts. The first class concerns social facts of a physiological, or operative, order.
In these cases it is easy to see how society imposes itself onto the individual from the outside. The first class of social facts also contains currents of opinion, or social phenomena that express themselves through individual cases. Examples include rates of marriage, birth, suicide or migration patterns. In these cases, the operation of society on the individual is not so obvious. Nevertheless, these phenomena can be studied with the use of statistics, which accumulate individual cases into an aggregate and express a certain state of the collective mind.
The second class of social facts is of a morphological, or structural, order. It is often concerned with the demographic and material conditions of life and includes the number, nature, and relation of the composing parts of a society, their geographical distribution, the extent and nature of their channels of communication, the shape and style of their buildings, and so forth.
While at first glance it might not be evident how the second class of social facts is influenced by collective ways of thinking, acting, or feeling, they indeed have the same characteristics and the same elements of externality and constraint as the first class.
Durkheim then provides a set of rules for studying social facts. The first and most important rule is to treat social facts as things. What Durkheim means by this is that social facts have an existence independent of the knowing subject and that they impose themselves on the observer.
Social facts can be recognized by the sign that they resist the action of individual will upon them; as products of the collectivity, changing social facts require laborious effort.
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The next rule for studying social facts is that the sociologist must clearly delimit and define the group of phenomena being researched. This structures the research and provides the object of study a condition of verifiability. The sociologist must also strive to be as objective towards the facts they are working on as possible and remove any subjective bias or attachment to what they are investigating. Finally, the sociologist must systematically discard any and all preconceptions and closely examine the facts before saying anything about them.
Durkheim applied these rules to empirical evidence he drew primarily from statistics, ethnography, and history. Durkheim treated this data in a rational way, which is to say that he applied the law of causality to it. At this, Durkheim introduced an important rationalist component to his sociological method, namely the idea that by using his rules, which work to eliminate subjective bias, human behavior can be explained through observable cause and effect relationships.
Accordingly, he often used a comparative-historical approach, which he saw as the core of the sociological method, to eliminate extraneous causes and find commonalities between different societies and their social facts.
In so doing, he strove to find general laws that were universally applicable. Durkheim also argued that contemporary social facts could only be understood in relation to the social facts preceding and causing them. Accordingly, Durkheim followed the historical development of political, educational, religious, economic, and moral institutions, particularly those of Western society, and explicitly made a strict difference between historical analysis and sociology: In other words, sociology searches for the causes and functions of social facts as they change over time.
In the early part of his career, Durkheim focused on the second class of social facts, or the structural organization of society. Later, social facts of the first class, such as suicide rates, religion, morality, or language became his primary topics of interest.
In his later works, Durkheim focused more on questions of a normative nature, or how individuals come to think and act in similar ways, and less on actual physical or legal constraints. Here society still imposes itself onto the individual, but social facts are seen in a more positive light, as the enablers of human activity or as sources of strength for the individual. As time wore on Durkheim eventually ceased using the word constraint altogether. Within this realist position there are two important claims.
First, Durkheim makes an ontological claim concerning the sui generis reality of social facts. Hence, Durkheim is arguing that social facts have particular properties of being and that they can be discovered and analyzed when the sociologist treats them in the proper, scientific way. Durkheim strongly refuted such accusations. In response to the first critique, it must be remembered that social facts are both exterior and interior to individuals, with externality in this case meaning interior to individuals other than the individual subject.
To say that social facts exist independent of all individuals is an absurd position that Durkheim does not advocate. Only on a methodological level, in order to study social facts from the outside as they present themselves to individuals, does the sociologist abstract social facts from the individual consciences in which they are present. In response to the second critique, Durkheim maintains that social facts, as manifestations of a psychic, or ideational, reality, do not have a material substratum.
They can only be observed through the more or less systematized phenomenal reality to be analyzed as empirical data that expresses them. The Sociology of Knowledge: His most definitive statement on the subject can be found in Forms, a book dedicated not only to studying religion, but also to understanding how logical thought arises out of society. Other works, such as Pragmatism and Sociology, a posthumous lecture series given late in his life, elaborate his views.
Not only are our common beliefs, ideas, and language determined by our social milieu, but even the concepts and categories necessary for logical thought, such as time, space, causality, and number, have their source in society with the latter claim Durkheim challenges the entire philosophical tradition going back to Aristotle. This logical structure helps to order and interpret the world, ensuring that individuals have a more or less homogenous understanding of the world and how it operates, without which human society would not be possible.
And since every society has had some form of logical system to guide its understanding of things, it follows that there has never been a society that is pre-logical or one that has lived in disorder or chaos. Furthermore, Durkheim rejects the idea of the Ding an sich, or the transcendent thing in itself. This means that the world exists only as far as it is represented, and that all knowledge of the world necessarily refers back to how it is represented.
As Durkheim explains, words, or concepts, are unlike individual sensory representations, which are in a perpetual flux and unable to provide a stable and consistent form to thought. Concepts are impersonal, stand outside of time and becoming le devenirand the thought they engender is fixed and resists change.
Consequently, language is also the realm through which the idea of truth is able to come into being, since through language individuals are able to conceive of a world of stable ideas that are common to different intelligences.
Thus, language conforms to the two criteria for truth that Durkheim lays out, impersonality and stability. These two criteria are also precisely what allow for inter-subjective communication.
Language is, therefore, obviously a sui generis product of social interaction; its necessity only becomes apparent when there are two or more individuals and language can only come into being through the fusion of individual consciences, with the result being completely new and different from and irreducible to the parts that make it up.
As such, the concept is common to all, and is the work of the community. Language does not bear the imprint of any mind in particular, and is instead developed by society, that unique intelligence where all of the others come to meet and interact, contributing their ideas and sentiments to the social nexus.
This is a claim of great hermeneutical intrigue, since the signification of any word is to be traced back to this potentially endless well of collective experience. Words are merely the way in which society, in its totality, represents to itself objects of experience. As such, language is also infused with the authority of society. With this, Durkheim makes a reference to Plato, saying that when confronted with this system of notions, the individual mind is in the same situation as the nous of Plato before the world of ideas.
The individual is thereby compelled to assimilate the concepts and appropriate them as their own, if only so as to be able to communicate with other individuals. As Durkheim argues, objects of experience do not exist independently of the society that perceives and represents them. They exist only through the relationship they have with society, a relationship that can reveal very different aspects about reality depending on the society.
This is because contained within language is all of the wisdom and the science that the collectivity has learned over the centuries. Through language society is able to pass on to an individual a body of collective knowledge that is infinitely rich and greatly exceeds the limits individual experience.
To think conceptually, thus, does not simply mean to see reality in a general way, it is to project a light onto reality, a light that penetrates, illuminates, and transforms reality.
The way in which an individual, literally, sees the world, and the knowledge an individual comes to have about existence, therefore, is highly informed by the language that individual speaks. The Categories Language is not the only facet of logical thought that society engenders; society also plays a large role in creating the categories of thought, such as time, space, number, causality, personality and so forth.
In formulating his theory, Durkheim is especially critical of rationalists, such as Kantwho believe that the categories of human thought are universal, independent of environmental factors, and located within the mind a priori. The categories, such as time and space, are not vague and indeterminate, as Kant suggests. Rather, they have a definite form and specific qualities such as minutes, weeks, months for time, or north, south, inches, kilometers for space.
The characteristics of the categories, furthermore, vary from culture to culture, sometimes greatly, leading Durkheim to believe that they are of a social origin. Durkheim argues that the categories share the same properties as concepts.
Categories, like concepts, have the qualities of stability and impersonality, both of which are necessary conditions for the mutual understanding of two minds. Like concepts, then, categories have a necessarily social function and are the product of social interaction.
Individuals could therefore never create the categories on their own. Durkheim believes that it is possible to overcome the opposition between rationalism and empiricism by accounting for reason without ignoring the world of observable empirical data. As Durkheim argues, the categories are the natural, sui generis result of the co-existence and interaction of individuals within a social framework.
What is more, not only does society institute the categories in this way, but different aspects of the social being serve as the content of the categories. For example, the rhythm of social life serves as the base for the category of time, the spatial arrangement of the group serves as a base for the category of space, the social grouping of society for example in clans or phratries serves as a base for the category of class as in the classification of itemsand collective force is at the origin of the concept of an efficacious force, which was essential to the very first formulations of the category of causality.
Another category of utmost importance is the category of totality, the notion of everything, which originates from the concept of the social group in total. The categories are not, of course, used only to relate to society.
Rather, they extend and apply to the entire universe, helping individuals to explain rationally the world around them. As a result, the ways in which individuals understand the world through the categories can vary in important ways. As Steven Lukes has pointed out, Durkheim does not distinguish between the faculties of categorical thinking, such as the faculty of temporality, and the content of these faculties, that is dividing time into set units of measurement.
Instead, Durkheim views both the capacity and the content of categorical thought as stamped onto the individual mind by society at the same time. There may be different classifications within a society, for example, but in order for an individual to recognize these classifications in the first place, they must have prior possession of the ability to recognize classifications.
The Classification of Knowledge Another vital role that society plays in the construction of human knowledge is the fact that it actively organizes objects of experience into a coherent classificatory system that encompasses the entire universe.
With these classificatory systems it becomes possible to attach things one to another and to establish relations between them. This allows us to see things as functions of each other, as if they were following an interior law that was founded in their nature and provides order to an otherwise chaotic world. What is more, Durkheim argues that it was through religion that the very first cosmologies, or classificatory systems of the universe, came into being, in the form of religious myth.
Religion was thus the first place where humans could attempt to rationally explain and understand the world around them. As a result, Durkheim argues that the evolution of logic is strongly linked to the evolution of religion though both ultimately depend upon social conditions. This leads to the claim that religion is at the origin of much, if not all, of human knowledge. This argument has a far reach, affecting even the way in which modern science views itself.
Following Durkheim, while modern science might claim to have no kinship with religion and in fact claim to be opposed to religion, it is in effect through religion that the conceptual and logical thought necessary for scientific thinking originated and was first elaborated. Cultural Relativism versus Scientific Truth With such a theory of knowledge, Durkheim reveals himself to be a cultural relativist, arguing that each culture has a network of self-referential logic and concepts that creates truths that are legitimate and, while not necessarily grounded in the reality of the physical world, are grounded within the reality of their respective social framework.
Truths of this nature Durkheim calls mythological truths. Thus, while, there are objective truths about the world to be discovered, it would be mistaken to think that reality exists independently, or is logically antecedent, of it being represented through society, since it is only through collective effort that these scientific truths are discovered, and thus come to being.
Scientific truths, while of a special nature, are also in an important way bound by the limits of society. Conclusion In the end, Durkheim strives to account for a total sociology of knowledge. And, since the world exists only as far as it is thought, and since the world is totally thought only by society, the world takes its shape in society.
In other words, society establishes, from the outset, the limits of possibility for rationality, linguistic expression, and knowledge in general. Early in his life, as in Division, he argued that human societies could exist on a secular basis without religion.
But later in his life he saw religion as a more and more fundamental element of social life. By the time he wrote Forms, Durkheim saw religion as a part of the human condition, and while the content of religion might be different from society to society over time, religion will, in some form or another, always be a part of social life.
Durkheim also argues that religion is the most fundamental social institution, with almost all other social institutions, at some point in human history, being born from it. For these reasons he gave special analysis to this phenomenon, providing a philosophy of religion that is perhaps as provocative as it is rich with insights. According to Durkheim, religion is the product of human activity, not divine intervention.
He thus treats religion as a sui generis social fact and analyzes it sociologically. Durkheim elaborates his theory of religion at length in his most important work, Forms. In this book Durkheim, uses the ethnographic data that was available at the time to focus his analysis on the most primitive religion that, at the time, was known, the totemic religion of Australian aborigines.
This was done for methodological purposes, since Durkheim wished to study the simplest form of religion possible, in which the essential elements of religious life would be easier to ascertain. In a certain sense, then, Durkheim is investigating the old question, albeit in a new way, of the origin of religion. It is important to note, however, that Durkheim is not searching for an absolute origin, or the radical instant where religion first came into being.
Such an investigation would be impossible and prone to speculation. In this metaphysical sense of origin, religion, like every social institution, begins nowhere. Rather, as Durkheim says, he is investigating the social forces and causes that are always already present in a social milieu and that lead to the emergence of religious life and thought at different points in time, under different conditions.
Nevertheless, his assertion that religion has an essentially social foundation, as well as other elements of his theory, have been reaffirmed and re-appropriated over the years by a number of different thinkers.
Of the three, perhaps the most important would be the notion of the sacred, which is the point around which any religious system revolves. It is that which inspires great respect and admiration on the part of society and what is set apart and keeps us at a distance.
With this definition Durkheim also puts an emphasis on the social element of religion. This is important because he spends a great deal of time in Forms arguing against theorists like Herbert Spencer, Edward Tylor, or James Frazer who locate the origin of religion in psychological phenomena such as dreams the animistic view of Spencer or natural phenomena, such as storms the naturalistic view of the latter two.
Durkheim argued that such an interpretation of phenomena was socially learned, and could only be the effect of an already established religion, not its cause. With this said, it is now time to examine how Durkheim believes a religion originates and operates. During these moments, the group comes together and communicates in the same thought and participates in the same action, which serves to unify a group of individuals. This impersonal, extra-individual force, which is a core element of religion, transports the individuals into a new, ideal realm, lifts them up outside of themselves, and makes them feel as if they are in contact with an extraordinary energy.
The next step in the genesis of religion is the projecting of this collective energy onto an external symbol. As Durkheim argues, society can only become conscious of these forces circulating in the social world by representing them somehow.
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The power of religion must therefore be objectified, or somehow made visible, and the object onto which this force is projected becomes sacred. This sacred object receives the collective force and is thereby infused with the power of the community. It is in this way that a society gains a tangible idea, or representation, of itself. This is because sacred objects can be very diverse and do not necessarily refer to supernatural deities.
For example, God is the sacred object for Christian societies, Thor was the sacred object for Viking society, but the four noble truths are also sacred objects for Buddhists, and, as we will see, the individual person has become the sacred object for modern, Western society. Religion is society worshipping itself, and through religion, individuals represent to themselves society and their relationship to it. Importantly, this analysis goes beyond what is strictly considered the religious realm, since all socially derived meaning operates in the same way.
For example, a stamp, a flag, or the sport of football are by themselves just a piece of paper, a piece of cloth, or a group of padded men chasing a leather ball; they are all essentially worthless and derive their value from the reality of collective forces they represent and embody.
The more important a society determines an object to be, the more valuable it will be in the eyes of an individual. If these moments of collective effervescence are the origin of religious feelings, religious rituals must be repeated in order to reaffirm the collective unity of a society, otherwise its existence is at risk. Durkheim remarks that if the societal forces central to the religious life of a society are not re-animated, they will be forgotten, leaving individuals with no knowledge of the ties that exist between them and no concept of the society to which they belong.
This is why religious ritual is necessary for the continued existence of a society; religion cannot exist through belief alone-it periodically needs the reality of the force behind the belief to be regenerated.
This takes place through various religious rituals, in which collective beliefs are reaffirmed and the individual expresses their solidarity with the sacred object of society, or with society itself. The form the specific ritual takes can vary greatly, from funerals to rain dances to patriotic national holidays, but its goal is always the same.
Through these rituals, society maintains its existence and integrates individuals into the social fold, exerting pressure on them to act and think alike. While it is a mistake for an individual to believe that this power emanates directly from the sacred object, or is somehow intrinsic to the sacred object, behind the symbol manifesting the force is a living and concrete reality. Consequently, all religions are true, at least symbolically, for they express a power that does exist, the power of society.
Religion, religious belief, and the religious experience cannot, therefore, be dismissed as mere fantasies or illusions. His writings on the subject, therefore, lack the consistency he would have liked to give them.
Nevertheless, he did publish several important articles, most notably his Determination of a Moral Factand gave lectures on the subject, including the posthumously published Moral Education, from which his views on morality can be deciphered.
Rather, Durkheim treats moral phenomena as conditioned both socially and historically. Each society creates over time its own set of moral rules, which can vary dramatically from one society to the next, with each society creating for itself moral principles that are more or less adequate to its existential needs. When analyzing moral phenomena, the moral philosopher must take into consideration the socio-historical context of the moral system they are operating in and make moral prescriptions accordingly, or risk doing great harm to that society.
However, that there exists no universal morality for humanity in no way abnegates the validity of any moral system and does not open the door to moral nihilism.
On the contrary, moral rules are rooted in the sui generis reality of society that the individual cannot deny; morality is a social fact and should be studied as such. This approach to morality would form the basis of what Durkheim considers a physique des moeurs, or a physics of morality, a new, empirical, rational science of morality. Yet, what exactly does Durkheim understand morality to be? And how does it operate in a society? Contained within this moral system is a set of moral values, beliefs, and ideas that provide a framework for the rules.
Morality is also a wholly social phenomenon, with morality not existing outside of the limits of society. As Durkheim claims, morality begins only when an individual pertains to a group. Moral rules have several unique characteristics that separate them from other rules that might be found in society.
According to Durkheim, at the heart of morality is a central moral authority that commands to its adherents its moral precepts. Obligation is thus a fundamental element of morality. This aspect of morality corresponds closely to the Kantian notion of duty, whose influence Durkheim openly acknowledges. However, Durkheim was critical of the Kantian notion of duty, since he felt that the repressive notion of duty was lacking a positive counterweight.
For Durkheim, such a counterweight is found in the desirability of morality, which is equally important and necessary for the existence of morality. What Durkheim means with the desirability of morality is that the individual views the authority dictating to them their obligations as a higher power that is worthy of their respect and devotion. When an individual performs their duty, they feel as if they are working towards some sort of higher end, which Durkheim equates to the good le bien.
As a result, the individual willingly accepts the obligatory nature of moral rules and views them beneficially. Within this dual obligatory-desirability element of morality, Durkheim views to a large extent the influence of religion. According to Durkheim morality and religion are intimately linked, and goes so far as to say that the moral life and the religion of a society are intimately intertwined. Wherever one finds a religion, one will find with it an accompanying moral doctrine and moral ideals that are commanded to believers.
Religious imagery therefore takes on a moral tone and can be an important physical source of moral authority in a society. It is not surprising to Durkheim then that religious imagery inspires the same emotions of fear, obedience, and respect that an individual feels in the face of moral imperatives. In this way, moral authority is constituted by a force that is greater than the individual, outside of the individual, but also a force that penetrates the individual and shapes their personality.
At this, Durkheim was keen to distinguish two elements of morality, both equally important to moral behavior. On the one hand, there is the morality of the group, which exists objectively and outside of the individual. Indeed, there are moral rules created by society that exert a pressure on the individual, but each individual expresses the morality of their society in their own way. This allows the individual to create, at least in part, their own morality.
In this way, morality has both an extra-individual element and an individual element, as is the case with all other social facts. Yet, one is inclined to ask, is the individual free to critique moral rules? Can morality not be changed? Is there any space for individual autonomy in this matter? According to Durkheim, moral rules do not need to be blindly followed by individuals.