Very much influenced by Jon Haidt’s marvelous forthcoming book ‘The Righteous Mind’ as well as David Sloan Wilson’s fascinating ‘Darwin’s Cathedral’ , I thought that it was time we visited Emile Durkheim’s interesting insights on religion that are also interesting insights into religious conflict. Words in italics are quotes from Durkheim. I will post more on Jon Haidt’s book once it is published.
- Religion has adaptive value by providing in-group cohesiveness, though at the possible expense of inter-group conflict with other religions. Religion involves believing, doing and belonging.
- People have found ways of living together, binding themselves to one another, suppressing each other’s selfishness and punishing deviants and free riders who eternally threaten to undermine cooperative groups. Religion is a key part of this process.
- ‘Man cannot become attached to higher aims and submit to rule if he sees nothing above him to which he belongs’
- ‘To free himself from all social pressure is to abandon himself and demoralize him’
- The ideal society is a stable network of nested and overlapping groups that socialize, reshape and care for individuals, who if left to their own devices would pursue shallow, carnal and selfish pleasures
- A stable society is hierarchical, punitive and religious and places limits on people’s autonomy and endorses traditions
- The family is the basic unit of society not the individual
- The very act of congregating together is an exceptionally powerful stimulant. Once individuals are gathered together for a religious ceremony, a sort of electricity is generated from their closeness and quickly launches them into an extraordinary height of exhilaration.
- ‘What is moral is everything that is a source of solidarity, everything that forces man…to regulate his actions by something other than his own egoism. The binding foundations of loyalty, authority and sanctity have a crucial role to play in a good society’.
- ‘It is not true that human activity can be released from all restraint.…Man’s characteristic privilege is that the bond he accepts is not physical, but moral; that is social. He is governed not by a material environment brutally imposed on him, but by a conscience superior to his own, the superiority of which he feels…But when society is disturbed by some painful crisis or by beneficial but abrupt transitions, it is momentarily incapable of exercising this influence.’
Part of the continuing political and religious conflict in modern day America is because of a failure to recognize these insights, which are perhaps inherently very conservative, but at the same time, I think capable of being adapted to help bring some creative alliances to improve society and the economy. But to accomplish this, you first have to understand what Durkheim is saying, if only as the start of some dialectical process to transcend it as per the spirit of this blog.
This is Emile: