Sacred–profane dichotomy

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French sociologist Émile Durkheim considered the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane to be the central characteristic of religion: "religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden."[1] In Durkheim's theory, the sacred represented the interests of the group, especially unity, which were embodied in sacred group symbols, or totems. The profane, on the other hand, involved mundane individual concerns. Durkheim explicitly stated that the dichotomy sacred/profane was not equivalent to good/evil. The sacred could be good or evil, and the profane could be either as well.[2]

Criticism[edit]

Durkheim's claim of the universality of this dichotomy for all religions/cults has been criticized by scholars like British anthropologist Jack Goody.[3] Goody also noted that "many societies have no words that translate as sacred or profane and that ultimately, just like the distinction between natural and supernatural, it was very much a product of European religious thought rather than a universally applicable criterion."[4]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Durkheim 1915, p. 47
  2. ^ Pals 1996, p. 99
  3. ^ "The sacred-profane distinction is not universal". Retrieved 2007-07-10.  quote: "neither do the Lo Dagaa [group in Gonja, editor note] appear to have any concepts at all equivalent to the vaguer and not unrelated dichotomy between the sacred and the profane"
  4. ^ "Sacred and Profane - Durkheim's Critics". Retrieved 2007-07-10. 

References[edit]

  • Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, (1912, English translation by Joseph Swain: 1915) The Free Press, 1965. ISBN 0-02-908010-X, new translation by Karen E. Fields 1995, ISBN 0-02-907937-3
  • Pals, Daniel (1996) Seven Theories of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press. US ISBN 0-19-508725-9 (pbk).

Further reading[edit]