In this entry I'll be paraphrasing Daniel L. Pals' book Eight Theories of Religion. I'll be discussing the philosopher Émile Durkheim and his particular theories of religion in society and its key features.
Durkheim was born in 1858 in Epinal in the northeast of France. He died at age 57 in 1917. His three most popular books are titled The Division of Labor, The Rules of Sociological Method, L'Anée Sociologique, and The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. His most popular books were released just before World War 2.
Émile Durkheim is to sociology what Freud was to psychology. Durkheim championed the importance of society: social structures, relationships, and institutions. He saw all enterprises of human life—morals and laws—through their respective social dimensions. Durkheim claimed social facts are more important than the individual. Humans will always belong to the social aspect of life. During momentous social changes in Europe during his time, Durkheim felt science was the only way to properly study a subject.
Durkheim's fundamental principals are:
1. Nature of society is the most suitable and promising subject for systematic investigation.
2. All "social facts" should be investigated by most purely objective scientific method.
He believed religion and morals are inseparable from a social framework—none of these aspects can exist without a social context. No matter where we look for determining causes of religion—the causes invariably turn out to be social. Religion serves as a carrier of social sentiments, providing symbols and rituals which enable people to express the deep emotions which anchor them to their community. He also felt religious ideas may be questioned, but rituals must endure.
Durkheim's theories are similar to other theorists such as Freud, in the manner Freud said a new discipline was required to study people. For Durkheim, this new methodology was sociology. Both promoted special fields of study and both tried to answer what religion was through reductionism. Respectively, Durkheim differed from Frazer in which Durkheim disagreed with Frazer's theory that humanity is marching upward through the ages.