Functionalist (societal focus - sometimes termed
- as exemplified by Emile Durkheim (1858 -
and A. R. Radcliffe-Brown (1881 - 1955)
No single individual has had greater impact on
the social sciences and anthropology than Durkheim. Born into long line of French rabbis
and educated in Old Testament and Hebrew studies, he never-the-less became an agnostic.
Durkheim tried University life but dropped out, only finally to return and graduate second
from the bottom. But by the 1890s, he had established himself, by publishing such
monumental works as Division of Labor in Society (1893) and Suicide (1897)
and Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1915). He also experienced tremendous
tragedy - World War I. All his students, except one killed, but including his own
brilliant son, were killed. The "war to end all wars" wiped out one of the most
promising classes of intellectual minds. Durkheim never recovered, dying at age 59. But
his legacy would not die, continued among such British Anthropologists as Radcliffe-Brown,
Fortes, Nadel, and later American anthropologists such as Redfield, Eggan, Tax and Nash.
fundamental questions revolved around: what keeps society together? What maintains
social solidarity? How does the individual support society? He refocused the discussion
from the psychology and "superego"- the interior - to the exterior - social
solidarity. Key points:
Focus on the "social condition" and "social facts," defined as a
collection of symbols that are fundamental to society.
collective - shared by most - the individual is in the service of supporting the needs
of society - the society is not created to support the individual
coercive - carry moral authority
produces emotional state (contrast with Tylor - religion from intellect not emotional
Thus Durkheim is not concerned about Freudian psychological struggles, nor Marxist
"modes of production,"nor is he concerned with origins or stages of development,
as they are only conjecture.
Religion as one example of social facts.
Beliefs and practices involving the "Sacred" - things that contribute
positively to society and are thus revered and set apart, such as a "priest,"
"cross," "medicine bundle," "totemism." Sacred symbols are
coercive and produce emotional state, i.e., "social fact." Sacred is contrasted
with the "Profane," i.e., things that are neutral or negative relative to the
social order, such as menstrual blood, mourning rituals. Thus set forth the sacred/profane
United into single community called a "church," which reiterates the
"collective" quality, i.e., must exist beyond any given individual.
Since religion is a social fact, derived form the social conditions, whose function is
to help insure solidarity, it becomes society that man is worshiping in ideal form.
Thus "religion" represents the positive aspects of social solidarity. So when
people are praying to God, they are actually praying to society. Or rephrased, man
worships himself for the purpose of social cohesion. In the example of "male
initiation rituals" (in contrast with Freud's theory) involves the sacred and awe,
emotional state established, functions to enhance social solidarity by subordinating the
individual to the collective, like "patriotism"
Sacred/profane dichotomy much too rigid - ethnographic evidence lacking.
Tautology - circular argument - the cause of something is the consequence, which in turn
is the cause. One can not claim that "religion," as a "social fact"
and an expression of the need for social solidarity, is the cause of religious beliefs and
practices, the consequences of those social facts. Religion causes religion.
"Religion" (as "social facts" and as acts of worship) can
not be both the consequence of "Social Solidarity" as well as the
cause and Prime Mover of it. To argue such is a circular argument, which is
nothing more than a descriptive observation, which can not be theoretically
But one can argue that humans formulate religious institutions to help
promote social solidarity, a lineal causation.
Identified the social functions of religion.
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