- Durkheim. An unsigned first review of The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life: A Study in Religious Sociology, by Émile Durkheim
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420 ] Durkheim An unsigned first review of The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life: A Study in Religious Sociology, by Émile Durkheim. Trans. Joseph Ward Swain London: Allen & Unwin, 1916. Pp. xi + 456.1 The Westminster Gazette. 48 (19 Aug 1916) 2; rpt. Saturday Westminster Gazette, 48 (19 Aug 1916) 14 This is exactly the sort of book which is worth translating. A scholarly book, it has already made its impression among scholars; and both interest of subject and exposition of the theories advanced recommend it to a wider public . Embodying several articles first published in M. Durkheim’s L’Année Sociologique, it yet shows modifications of the earlier views; and presents what appears to be the author’s final word on the theory of religion. M. Durkheim is known as the leader of a school of thought whose influence has spread during the last ten years. In Paris, MM. Lévy-Bruhl, Hubert, Mauss, Hamelin, and others,2 and in England notably Miss Jane Harrison, Mr. Cornford, and Mr. A. B. Cook, bear witness to the fertility of Professor Durkheim’s ideas.3 His present volume, well translated, though with less literary finish than the original, ought to be read not only by specialists, but by everyone who is interested in the history and in the future of religion. M. Durkheim’s argument may be unravelled into three strands. There is first an examination of the facts of primitive religion (based chiefly upon the researches of Spencer and Gillen, and Howitt, into Australian society), in which the author is concerned with the meaning of totemism and the periodic festivals of the Australians.4 This argument, which may be considered upon its own merits, attempts to provide a more satisfactory interpretationofthesephenomenathanthoseputforwardbyearlieranthropologists , especially Max Müller, Lang, and Frazer.5 Max Müller’s view, which was mainly based upon Sanskrit philology, and which examined primitive religion mainly through its myths, saw in the primitive pantheon a personification of the larger forces of nature, and found in the primitive mind, a sentiment of awe and wonder at these forces, a fundamental intuition of the [ 421 Durkheim “infinite.” M. Durkheim does not attribute the origin of religion to wonder or speculation, and sees in mythology only the attempt of the savage to rationalise and justify his own religious practices, in regard to the true origin of which he is as much in the dark as the scientific investigator. The second type of explanation which M. Durkheim criticises is that of “animism ”–the classic example of which is Tylor’s dreaming aborigine who finds that his soul in sleep can part company with his body and roam the forests, and who comes to invest the objects about him with a separable soul like that which he attributes to himself.6 The idea of the soul, according to M. Durkheim,isderivative.Thetruebeginningofreligionhefindsinthe“group consciousness.” He shows how this group consciousness accounts for totemism . The second strand of his argument traces the development of the categories : space, time, number, cause, etc., out of the group consciousness. This line of argument, which is of interest chiefly to technical philosophers, is inadequately developed and may be neglected in so brief a discussion as the present. The third strand of argument takes up the ultimate function and destiny of religion in our own civilisation. The doctrine of group consciousness is the basis of the whole theory. On one side the consciousness of man is limited by the individual’s needs and activities. The individual marries and begets; hunts and fishes, builds and labours, and these are interests of a purely individual consciousness . The instinct for association and community with other men is not merely defensive or economic, nor is the community an accident of common descent. It is a religious instinct. For the savage or the civilised man, a solely individual existence would be intolerable; he feels the need of recreating and sustaining his strength by periodic refuge in another consciousness which is supra-individual. Totemism is the organization of the group, and the religious festival is its expression. “[B]y uttering the same cry, pronouncing the same word, or performing the same gesture in regard to some object . . . [individuals] become and feel themselves to be in unison” . Collective sentiments find expression spontaneously in a material emblem. Durkheim, following Strehlow, thinks that each group took as its insignia the animal or plant that was the commonest in the vicinity where it had the habit of meeting.7...