Emile Durkheim's The Elementary Forms of Religious Life

1354 WordsJul 9, 20186 Pages
The crux of Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life lies in the concept of collective effervescence, or the feelings of mutually shared emotions. Through a hermeneutical approach, Durkheim investigates the reflexiveness of social organization, the balance between form and content, and the immense cooperation in collective representations. In his work, society is the framework of humanity and gives it meaning, whereas religion acts as the tool to explain it. Since society existed prior to the individual, the collective mind must be understood before the concept of the individual can be grasped. However, one component seems missing from his social theory – what underlies society in terms of rituals and rites? Only when this…show more content…
By identifying with a group, collective emotions can be experienced even in solitude, as evidenced by the existence of two separate worlds. The use of “incommensurable” points to the dichotomy of society and the individual and highlights the fact that the social construct consists of individual components rather than a single entity. This is evidenced when a man speaks to the crowd and “His language becomes high-flown…the feelings he arouses return to him enlarged and amplified, reinforcing his own to the same degree” (212). The speaker expresses the collective sentiment and, much like a biological positive feedback loop, the emotions of the crowd resonate back to the speaker. Thus the speaker transcends his own identity as simply an individual and becomes an incarnate of the group. When emotions trickle down from society to the individual, they loop back and beget society. By investigating the piacular rites of the Australian aborigines, Durkheim suggests that social rituals create both a sense of grief and group duty. Primitive forms of mourning consist of “beating, bruising, lacerating, and burning oneself…sometimes [to the extent that] they do not survive their wounds” (402). Through these acts of self-inflicted pain and torment, members of society partake in a form of re-presenting the dichotomy of life and death. The emotional rites seem to stem from society itself, for the rites embody the rites of
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