Durkheim, Malinowski, and Eliade

Durkheim described religion as “the determination of human life by the sentiment of a bond uniting the human mind to that mysterious mind whose domination of the world and itself it recognizes, and to whom it delights in feeling itself united” (29). Religious characteristics that evade science or distinct thought in general are considered to be supernatural (Durkheim 39). The best way to study religion is by taking into consideration both the civilized and the uncivilized societies (Durkheim 26). Durkheim stated that sociology was to some extent a scientific study and that “truth comes from science” (172). His approach to religion is a controversial one because he argued that religion had to comply with the cannons of the natural sciences. He went to an extent of proving his argument through an experiment. His experiment entailed the repeated acts of the cult which give rise to “impressions of joy, of interior peace, of serenity, of enthusiasm (Durkheim 464).
Malinowski extensively deviates from the notion of religion being related to social organization (19). Religion is not identical with society or the social (Malinowski 19). Religion and totemism upholds social solidarity more than magic does. On the other hand, Malinowski writes that “there are no peoples however primitive without religion and magic” (1). In his concept of religion Durkheim`s differentiation between sacred and profane is very clear. Similarly, Malinowski points out two domains which he distinguishes, the sacred and profane (1). However, contrary to Durkheim, he includes the sacred and profane within the domain of magic. He believes that, in any community studied by trustworthy and proficient observers the domains of magic, religion and science are clearly distinguishable in any (1). This is a concept that Durkheim has not considered in his works.
There is a similarity of ideas between Durkheim and Malinowski on the issue of sacred things and observances. Such observances are always associated with beliefs in supernatural forces, such as magic and spirits of the dead ancestors (Malinowski 1). Similarly, cult of the dead is extended to all nature and it is argued that it comes from the fact that human beings tend to represent all things in their own image, that is to say, as living and thinking beings. However, as Durkheim writes, “religion is more than the idea of gods or spirits, and consequently cannot be defined exclusively in relation to gods and spirits” (Durkheim 35). Malinowski stated that religion does not cling to life only, “for death opens perhaps the vastest view on to the other world” (19). Malinowski believes the relation between the dead and the living is critical in determining the lives of the living (20). On the other hand, belief in the spirit of the dead is viewed to be primitive (Durkheim 33). This is one of the major differences exhibited by the two authors regarding religions belief and magic, particularly in respect to the spirit of the dead.
The soul of a human being continues to live after death (Malinowski 2). It is argued that the spirit of dead men continue to visit and haunt the living, and to some extent determine how the life of human beings is going to turn out (Malinowski 2). In most religious groups, sacred beings are conceived in the form of an animal or plants. In this aspect, human form is disengaged (Durkheim 30). Since objects, animals and plants move, behave, and act, they must be endowed with spirits. As Durkheim wrote, sacred and profane are universal socio-religious characteristics. The notion of the sacred as being at the heart of religion is no longer openly rejected it is a matter of refinement. The separation of the sacred and profane is extremely rigid. Durkheim believes that the truth of religious beliefs is that they are socially effective and constitute part of the social reality that is the subject matter of sociology (Durkheim 30).
Durkheim viewed religious belief to be related to the `otherworldly`, to God or the gods, and is deemed to be sacred but is expressed in terms of this world, an idea he negates to be a default position. The idea that Durkheim emphasized was not so much individual beliefs but collective beliefs. Profane is characterized by “the arts, crafts and economic pursuits and it is disentangled from magic and religion” (Malinowski 10).
The notion of social memory is strongly evident in Durkheim. The unity of a society is closely connected with its collective memory which guarantees social identity. But this memory is dependent on organization and on collective symbols which need to be ritualized. Here, Durkheim introduces the concept of a cult with a discussion of `piacular` rites those which are contrary to the confident, jubilations are characterised by anger, fear and sadness. Such rites emanates from some calamity that has befallen a community, such as the death of a member and may entail the burning of skin, knocking out of teeth or other self-inflicted harm. This gives a collective representation of the community which reveals its sense of loss while at the same time confirming the sense of its own longevity and solidarity (Durkheim 76). Durkheim argued that the individual human mind constructs the categories from its sensation. A group can distinguish the rites from other human practices by determining the nature of their objects. Therefore, if the rite is to be characterized, the object is the one which will determine the characterization.
Ultimately, the sacred reality manifests itself in our midst. As Eliade writes, “any geographic point of sacred manifestation becomes a center where people have access to the central axis that connects the three cosmic regions.” (36). Three cosmic regions include the earth, heaven, and hell. The point where the sacred manifests itself usually becomes a focal point where human beings can access the sacred and concentrate their ritual life (Eliade 37). Eliade stated that “every micro-cosm, every inhabited region, has what may be called a `center` that is, a place that is sacred above all” (Eliade 37). The center is where the sacred manifests itself in an individual. As Durkheim writes, “co-operation with the things with which human beings were in immediate connection was so necessary for them that they could not fail to seek knowledge of their nature.” (79).
Works Cited
Durkheim, Emile. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd. 1976. Print.
Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. Florida: Haughton Mifflin Harcourt, 1987. Print.
Malinowski, Bronislaw. Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays 1948. Montana: Kessinger Publishing. 1948. Print.