• Key feature of religion was not a belief in Gods, the supernatural or spirits, but a fundamental distinction between the sacred and the profane found in all religions
  • SACRED are things set apart and forbidden, that inspire feelings of awe, fear and wonder, surrounded by taboos and prohibitions
  • PROFANE are things that have no special significance (ordinary and mundane things)
  • Religion is not simply a set of beliefs but involves definite rituals and practices in relation to the sacred, rituals are collective and performed by social groups
  • Sacred things represent something of great power and this 'thing' can only be society itself as this is the only thing powerful enough to command such feelings
  • For Durkheim sacred symbols vary from religion to religion but all perform essential functuons of uniting believers into one community


  • Durkheim studied an aboriginal Australian tribe with a clan system
  • The clans consist of bands of kin who come together to perfom rituals involving worship of a sacred totem.
  • The totem is the clans emblem, which symbolises the clans origin and identity. The rituals serve to reinforce social solidarity between the group
  • When clan members worship the toem, they are worshipping society, even though they are not aware of it. 
  • Totem inspires feelings of awe in the clans memebers precisely because it represents the power of the group on which the individual is dependent.


  • Sacred symbols represent society's collective conscience. This is the shared norms, values beliefs and knowledge that make social life and cooperation between individuals possible and without this society will disintegrate.
  • Regular religious rituals reinforce the collective conscience and maintain social integration
  • Participation in these rituals bind individuals together and remind them that they are part of a single moral community.
  • Religion performs an important function for the individual, as it makes us feel part of something greater than ourselves, it strenghtens us to face lifes trials and motivates us to overcome obstacles that would otherwise defeat us.


  • WORSLEY (1956) says there is not a sharp division between the sacred and the profane, different clans share the same totems. Even if Durkheim is right about totemism this doesnt prove that hes discovered the essence of other religions.
  • PM Stjepan Mestrovic (2011) argues Durkheims ideas can't…




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