Religion is culturally universal since it fulfills specific essential functions within human societies. It explains particular events which seem difficult to comprehend. Both functionalist and sociologists assert that religion is an individual and societal requirement because it serves both latent and manifest. While it seems that every individual belongs to a particular religion, the definition of the religion is one thing that makes it difficult to understand since several scholars both from different classes of education are defining it differently. While there are numerous and varied definitions of religion, this paper argues that Emile Durkheims definition which states that A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them (Durkheim & Swain, 2008) is the most helpful in characterizing religion.
Unlike other definitions, Emile Durkheim puts all the facets and components of religion in this description. This is a purposeful explanation of religion, meaning that it illustrates what the religion does in peoples social life: basically, it unites cultures and societies. He defined religion as a vibrant difference between the profane and the sacred, in effect that it can be paralleled with the difference between humans and God. He talks about unified beliefs and practices which relates to sacred things. In this context, people who believe that they are in a particular religion must have specific practices and ideas that they follow. The beliefs are considered to have been set not by any member of that faith but by a supernatural being or object that cannot be questioned hence those practices should not be disobeyed or changed. Later, he mentions a church, a symbol of unity where people who belong in one religion meet and teach each other their cultural and religious practices. Lastly, he talks about the sacred thing which people must obey.
Religion, for Durkheim, is not "imaginary", as defined by other scholars although he does divest it of what some believers find very essential. According to him, religion is real; it is a countenance of the society itself, and no community lacks its religion. People express themselves religiously in groups, which he makes the symbolic power of greater. Religion, therefore, is an expression of peoples collective realization, which is the combination of all of the individual consciousness, which creates the reality of its own.
Although Emile Durkheim's definition can be accepted by several religions, Durkheim does not stipulate what precisely may be considered sacred and who is the supernatural being. Is it God or any other object that can be anointed to be holy? For example, there are some religions which believe in animals as the sacred being. As such, it is in this context on what is sacred and who is supernatural, Durkheim is likely to be challenged by Christians who believe that the supernatural is only God and not any other things that can be seen and touched. It is at this point that the religion would challenge Durkheim and propose a clarity on that particular opinion. In his further explanations, he tries to explain that ideally the sacred are just materials. Emile Durkheim says "...sacred things are simply collective ideals that have fixed themselves on material objects" (Durkheim & Swain, 2008).
Durkheim, E., & Swain, J. W. (2008). The elementary forms of the religious life. Courier Corporation.
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