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The Elementary Forms of Religious Life by Emile Durkheim

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Thought Provoking

Karen Fields has given us a splendid new translation of the greatest work of sociology ever written, one wewill not be embarrassed to assign to our students. In addition she has written a brilliant and profound introduction. The publication of this translation is an occasion for general celebration, for averitable collective effervescence.

-- Robert N. Bellah Co-author of Habits of the Heart, and editor of Emile Durkheim on Morality and Society This superb new translation finally allows non-Frenchspeaking American readers fully to appreciate Durkheims genius. It is a labor of love for which all scholars must be grateful.

--Lewis A. Coser

Personal Review: The Elementary Forms ofReligious Life by Emile Durkheim
This book is more than an explanation of the origins of religious belief; Durkheim was ultimately trying to show how religious thought lay the foundation for scientificthought, and how a priori knowledge was based on social norms rather than being "innate". I wouldn't say that Durkheim successfully proved all these notions, but there is enough good material in thisbook to furnish a reader with starting points for explorations in a number of different directions.

The most important concept in the book, from my perspective, is that of "collective consciousness",meaning the ideas, instincts, and general world-views that are formed by social cohesion. Social conventions are not external to people, they are internalized and appropriated emotionally, taking onthe guise of "supernatural" or "divine" truth. Even outside of the religious sphere, one can begin to observe that much that is assumed as "truth" is a function of social convention. The process isorganic, with individuals contributing to the process to create a greater whole--the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It opens up the question of what it means to be an individual in...
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