Durkheim And Weber's Theory Of Religion

1788 Words8 Pages
Comparison of Weber and Durkheim in the area of Religion

by Margaret Stowe

A comparison of the views of Max Weber and Emil Durkheim in the area of religion and its role in shaping social behaviour and history shows that the two thinkers have a different method, language, and resulting theory. It is made more interesting by looking at the upbringing and religious orientation of each thinker,
Weber being the Protestant Christian and Durkheim the agnostic. A few main themes of difference between the theories of the two thinkers are evident. Weber’s focus was on the individual and their relationship with their god, Durkheim focusing on the effects of religion as a group activity. Weber focused on the economic effects, Durkheim, the moral.
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Durkheim’s “science” focused on the moral effects of religion on real life social behaviour, and extended this to the philosophical and even psychological realm as he studied group religious behaviour but it is clear the Weber focused on the effects of religion on the economics aspects of life and the historical development of economic systems. Durkheim argued that repetitive religious ritual had a “conditioning” effect on the individual, which made the individual feel part of the group and behave in ways conducive to the survival of the group. As a result religion created the moral basic of society and held society together on a fundamental level. Weber’s theories of religion were more contextual, as he analyzed all of the world religions, from Judaism through Islam, whereas Durkheim’s theories were sweeping and more general to mankind as a whole and were primarily based on the study of the Totemism of early Australian Aboriginal religion. He believed that the study of early religious behaviour provided the key to its social…show more content…
Animism is the belief in spirits, the soul, a future state and a ghost-soul, which exists in dreams and fantasies. The divine is contrived from internal “mental experiences” of the soul and the ghost soul. Durkheim didn’t think animism answered his questions about the distinction between the sacred and the profane. What elevates things to the level of the sacred, to form the religious beliefs? Durkheim also saw that the first “sacred” objects were external natural objects, “things” and forces of nature. This was Naturalism, the personification of these natural objects through metaphor and images. Awesome spectacles inspired religious ideas. Again, Durkheim asked, “How did these things acquire a sacred nature and character?” To answer these questions he turned to a study of early Australian aboriginal Totemism. He chose this group because he felt they represented the most basic, elementary forms of religion within a culture. Clans were groups originating from a common ancestor. Each clan had a totem or emblem of an animal or plant, which represented the clan, and the Clan member’s names were the name of this animal or plant. The “totem image” of this animal or plant acted, as a sort of coat of arms and it appeared everywhere even on the body, and had religious
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