Book review of “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life” Emile Durkheim

Name of the Book: The Elementary Form of Religious Life(1912)Elementary Forms of Religious Life                                               

Author: Emile Durkheim(1858-1917)                        

Translation and Introduction Copyright:Karen. E . Fields(1995)                                                                      

Published by: Simon and Schuster Inc, New York

Emile Durkheim has presented the evolution aspect of the religions of the world with their rites and cults before the emergence of the world’s four most prevalent religions of the modern times namely Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.. The book clarifies the four main ancient religion evolution aspect by explaining Totemism, Naturism and Animism. The necessary two elements are Belief-Rites with the concept of Sacred and Profane. The religious rituals involve community whereas magic has practitioners with clients pay for service. The spirit, soul, dreams, ancestor worship and death rituals have been common denominator for all the religion.

It lacks information on modern existing religion. It has no talks on Islam but covers some aspect of Buddhism calling it atheist religion. It has used Christianity and Hinduism to compare some practices of ancient rituals which might not have connections. It has missed out Egyptian legendary GOD’s that existed before Hindu myths. It provides information on religious deities of Rome, Greece, Semites, Jews, Indians etc trying to point towards same mystic GOD but with different names, belief and practices.

The book has defined religion as, “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things that is to say, things set apart and forbidden-beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.”

Buddhism says Burnouf, “takes its place in opposite to Brahmanism as morality without gods and an atheism without Nature”  “It recognizes no god on whom man depends”-M Barth “It’s doctrine is absolutely atheist-It’s a religion without god”-M Oldenberg pg 102

“Magic has clients and currency. It has no members, though followers. It has societies but no communities. Often times magicians with draw themselves from group living a loner life.”pg 116

“First there are solemn occasions when the men of the clan of their chief not only may but must eat the totemic animal and plant, as I have just noted. Second, the myths report that the great founding ancestors of the clans regularly ate their totem. This  stories cannot be understood, say they, except as the echo of a time when restrictions did not exist. “pg 129

The book is anthropological and sociological research, helpful for anyone to get deep into finding evolution of religion in its elementary form.  Durkheim is one of the four founding fathers of sociology with his classic research on “Suicide”, “The Division of Labor” and “The Rules of Sociological Method”

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