Understanding the Foundations of Religion

“To yield an understanding of the religious nature of man, by showing us an essential and permanent aspect of humanity” – Emile Durkheim

Practitioners and observers of religious rituals and beliefs will know that it’s a widespread practice to only think of superficial appearances. In order to get some insight as well as analysis, an understanding of the underlying reality of religion is required.

Emile Durkheim, one of the founders of sociology, tackled the mysteries of religious ritual and belief 107 years ago in his book titled, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life.

Durkheim began by studying the descriptions laid out by anthropologists about the religions of the aborigines of Australia. His analysis of what he believed to be the primal beliefs which came before the more evolved religious practices practiced by the modern world gave him insight into the origins and deep realities of religion.

Durkheim said that the essential concept of religion wasn’t about a belief in a single God or many Gods. It was a distinction between the sacred as well as the profane.

Sacred characters are infused into the members of the clan instead of into physical objects in Australian aboriginal religions. Durkheim argued that worshippers are really giving their thoughts to when they offer food to their Gods. Durkheim elaborated by saying that their Gods are a symbolic expression of society and that religion is social in its essence. In his book, Durkheim wrote that the purpose of sacrificial banquets is to allow for communication between the worshipper and their God. These banquets would let the allow communication “in the same flesh,” forming a kinship and, a social bond among the worshipping community. Durkheim referred to this as an “act of alimentary communion.”

Durkheim dives even deeper by saying that the origin, as well as the essence of immortality, doesn’t come from moral judgment. Instead, the belief in immortality that stems from religion serves to reinforce continuity of the community’s collective. Souls are not created from matter, the come from existing souls and are a part of the continuity.

Durkheim’s views are impressive when looked at from a modern perspective. Even though his book is more than a hundred years old, it still inspires plenty of healthy debate in religion, philosophy, and the history of human behavior.

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