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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

durkheim's definitions of society and religion


Emile Durkheim defines society as a complicated network with every part integrally working for the sake of the entire group. According to Durkheim, society comes in two forms: internal and external. First, the internal society forms the “collective moral conscious.” In other words, it is the defining mechanism in shaping our beliefs and attitudes for survival in the world. If society does not conform to the internal society, then social isolation, ridicule, and other forms of punishment could occur. Examples of internal society are the Bible, education, and laws. Society uses these devices to attempt to keep social order and construct a socially acceptable individual. External to society is the actual pressures from the community to conform to the collective. For example, ways of thinking, acting and feeling are external to society. Social facts exist externally to us and compel people to behave in a unified way, with norms that are constructed by society. These facts are recognizable through power that the external persuasion has, which can be exercised over an individual. Early on, Durkheim defined social facts by their exteriority and constraint, his main concern being on the operation of the law. Social facts possess various characteristics. One characteristic is constraint, which is the ability to mold an individual to conform to society. A second characteristic is generality, which is something that is potentially general and separated with a group. A final characteristic included in social facts is externality, which consists of a reality existing outside any individual. To summarize, Durkheim sees the society not as a mere sum of individuals but as a systematized association of individuals representing a specific reality with unique features.
Meanwhile, Durkheim’s theory of religion tells that religion, like the society and as a society, functions on a set of interconnected laws which members of the community follow. In the context of religion, these laws are the sacred things or “things set apart or forbidden” basically because these are the ones commanding the laws and, hence, above these laws. It is imperative that the behavior expected of the religious community be in the way of believing the sacred things and practicing the commandments of these sacred things, not for the sake of these sanctified objects but for the community’s own sake: for their assurance of salvation and sustenance of morality, which obliges of everyone to each other as well as to the entire group’s standards. Not only should the behavior be supposedly harmonious to the commandments but also should the beliefs and practices be consistent, because only when the laws within that community do not contradict one another will the members put their faith in by adhering to the laws. Such laws belong to all members, so they are held sacred in the context of their community, and being the moral standard by which people live, they symbolize the community and works as the reverence the society has for itself.
As a lawful society, religion keeps the community together by keeping the people in check. Though one’s religion doesn’t make the country crimeless, it keeps the whole aspects of life in the community revolving around it. For example, there are a few states in the US that are still against gay marriage, though there are some states in the US that approved gay marriage. Some European countries have approved gay marriages and some haven’t. The point here is that moral issues like gay marriage are complicated by the fact that the religion is inseparable to the society since the very members of society make up the members of the religious community. Meanwhile, most Islamic countries are strict and their laws revolve around them in such a way that some government policies have revolved around this belief of the people. Islamic violations, it must be remembered, usually result to death penalty. That is how highly regarded religion is to certain societies: adherents to whatever religion have to be united morally (in essence, lawfully) to the beliefs and practices, because only when the network of laws are upheld will the sacred things be truly taken seriously.
Religion is a product of the society because the very members of the society compose what religion is. When they realize that there is a greater power that controls the very things they cannot, i.e. the change of weather and seasons, the pattern of day and night, the events that surprisingly oppose their intentions, etc, they philosophize that there must be a Supreme Being that they cannot explain the existence of, someone who has immense power to do the changes they cannot. Hence, they resorted to myths in order to explain the mysteries of nature. By representing God in their minds, individuals have ceased to see nature as the prime cause of motion. The growing network of beliefs and the accompanying practices built into what is known as religion. It is the society that constructed it because the social members are the ones who created the beliefs and the ones that practice the same.
Religion is a product of society in that a society dictates religion. The more the number of a specific religion, the more one can control the society’s way of life like culture, laws, and everything. Society uses these devices to attempt to keep social order and construct a socially acceptable individual.
According to Durkheim, social facts are things not done individually like facts, concepts and expectations, but something done collectively within society to shape an individual. Religion, by way of what has been explained above, follows this route. It is a shared network of beliefs and practices among members; its laws are expected to be consistent with one another in order to gain the trust of the community adhering in it. Religion cannot be explained by biology or chemistry but by sociology which could explain why the whole society is doing these things—the upholding of rites, the creation of God in the social mind, the following of commandments, the preservation of morality; hence, social facts are explained using social facts. Social facts are shared by individuals so religion as a social fact makes a common God for a certain society, and unites the community into a single standard of morality.

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