Writing Out Loud: Elementary Forms of Religious Life

When reading The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, it’s easy to think that Durkheim is cynical about religion. After all, according to Durkheim, religion is nothing more than a social invention. However, religion, like the division of labor, serves an important function--it is a collective representation of society’s ideals. Religion, for Durkheim, is comprised of a “whole world of feelings, ideas, and images that follow their own laws once they are born” and that are collectively held within a group. Keep this in mind as you answer the following questions.

Theme: Emergence Through Convergence


  1. The first part of the reading examines Durkheim’s methodological choices. Why does Durkheim think that religion in “primitive” societies is easier to understand than religion in societies that he thinks aren’t “primitive?”
  2. How do you think that collective effervescence works? Is it always pleasant, or can it be uncomfortable? Is collective effervescence (and the solidarity that it fosters) always positive for a society, or can it have negative consequences—and if so, can you think of any examples?
  3. According to Durkheim, all religions have something in common: a sense of the sacred and the profane. We can take those ideas and apply them to many parts of social life. Think of a concrete example of when you’ve experienced a feeling of collective effervescence that was tied to something sacred. What was sacred and why? What types of rituals did you practice to separate that sacred thing from the profane?
Back To Top