Durkheim on Totemism

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In order to truly assess the legitimacy of Durkheim 's functionalist definition of religion, his notion of Social facts, (upon which his theory is constructed) must be examined. Durkheim advocated that amongst the reputable fields of biology, psychology and history, Sociology also warranted a specific focus. It was, for him: a 'sui generis ' "something that had to be explained on its own terms". Sociology was not, for Durkheim, a field that should be susceptible to overlapping subject matter: he believed that there existed concrete social facts recognisable "by the power of eternal coercion" which they are "capable of exercising over individuals". This claim is an imperative one because it is the platform on which his functionalist…show more content…
Such a abstract ineffable sensation demanded (In Durkheim 's words) something material and tangible through which to be expressed. This emphasis on the external being internalised is similar to Radcliffe-Brown who believed religious acts were an expression of 'a sense of dependance on a power outside ourselves '. Durkheim noted how one "cannot detect the source of the strong feelings we have in an abstract entity" but "can comprehend those feelings only in connection with a concrete object" Such an object he labeled totemic, conveying how in 'primitive ' societies these miscellaneous items were believed to be endowed with sacredness. Such objects (or animals or plants) were and still are worshipped vehemently, they are bestowed with the utmost respect as tribal systems are constructed around them. But (apart from their physical form or lack of it) he did not envisage this relationship between the abstract and material as a conjunction of different entities: the sociologist stated that if such a symbol represents God and society "Is this not because God and society are one and the same thing?". One must note Durkheim was an Agnostic, not a staunch atheist, religion was very much a 'real ' concept for him, in the sense that it was derived from something very concrete: it was a process by which mankind expresses social facts. Although "this representation is symbolic and metaphorical,
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