Applying Karl Mannheim's Sociologist Approach to the Theories of Emile Durkheim and William James

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We can apply Karl Mannheim’s sociologist approach to knowledge to the theories of two scholars of religion, Émile Durkheim and William James. “The ideas expressed by the subject are thus regarded as functions of his existence. This means that opinion, statements, propositions, and systems of ideas are not taken at their face value but are interpreted in the light of the life-situation of the one who expresses them” (Mannheim 50). Mannheim essentially believes that the acquisition of knowledge is based on the perspective of the observer. More obviously, their respective views stem from their fields of expertise; Durkheim, a sociologist, supports social constructionism as a rudimentary tool to understanding religion, while William James…show more content…
Therefore it is not too far a leap to go from the profane and sacred spaces of Durkheim to the respective divine being and individual that James refers to.
Although both study religion in terms of experience, Durkheim did not want to look at the various individual’s interaction with religion, but the communal aspects and interactions as a whole that would become religion. Durkheim believes that a community establishes a sense of stability within a “power structure.” A strong example of the power structure would be the Catholic Church, which uses coercive tools like the promise of salvation to strengthen itself. Thus Durkheim stresses the importance of the church in the second part of his definition, “[…] prohibition – beliefs and practices that unite its adherents in a single moral community called a church” (Durkheim 46). Stressing the difference of the direction of his work in comparison to James, in Pragmatism and Sociology, Durkheim directly critiques the fact that James doesn’t acknowledge structures of power, in the form of churches or any other institution, in his approach to religion.

Even though there is a relationship of sacred and profane between the work of the two theorists, Durkheim’s sociological approach seems to directly contrast the individualistic perspective that James brings. In the very first pages of The Elementary Forms of Religious Experience, Durkheim

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