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Sacred and Profane

Page history last edited by Linnea 15 years, 6 months ago

     In his book The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1917), Durkheim searched for universal qualities of religion and came up with, church, ritual, and the dichotomy of the sacred and the profane. Durkheim argued that the world was divided into two categories: the sacred and the profane.  This dichotomy is fundamental to the understanding of religion and the solidarity that it creates.  He argues that the sacred is anything that has a special importance or meaning to the group and in order to display this, people develop rituals and protective practices in order to separate the sacred objects or symbols from the profane, which is everything else. 


     Durkheim applies this theory to his work on Australian Totemism as he describes how the totems are surrounded by practices and rituals which separate the figures from profane objects and thus, through the process of separation, create the sacredness of the totems themselves.  He goes on to discuss how the totems are not as sacred as what they represent and as they represent the clan themselves, they create solidarity among the group. Durkheim believed that totemism was a reflection of society onto nature. Social groupings and hierarchies were, to him, natural parts of humanity. When humans saw this organization and separation within society, they turned to nature and mirrored that sort of organization and classified things within nature. Within totemic societies, there are totems that are considered most sacred, but other things within the environment are also classified and divided up among the clans. Therefore, a clan that considered the hyena most sacred, could also have special rituals for cactuses, giraffes and saw grass. Everything within nature is divided among the clans as sacred or proface. Totemism functions to create easily distinguishable clans that then create solidarity among the group because everyone within that clan considers the same things sacred or profane.

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