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The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (Oxford World's Classics) [Paperback]

By Émile Durkheim (Author)
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Item Number 160425  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   416
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.64" Width: 5.04" Height: 0.79"
Weight:   0.62 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jun 21, 2001
Publisher   Oxford University Press
ISBN  0192832557  
EAN  9780192832559  

Availability  0 units.

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Item Description...
In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912), Emile Durkheim sets himself the task of discovering the enduring source of human social identity. He investigates what he considered to be the simplest form of documented religion - totemism among the Aborigines of Australia. For Durkheim, studying Aboriginal religion was a way 'to yield an understanding of the religious nature of man, by showing us an essential and permanent aspect of humanity'. The need and capacity of men and women to relate to one another socially lies at the heart of Durkheim's exploration, in which religion embodies the beliefs that shape our moral universe.
The Elementary Forms has been applauded and debated by sociologists, anthropologists, ethnographers, philosophers, and theologians, and continues to speak to new generations about the intriguing origin and nature of religion and society. This new, lightly abridged edition provides an excellent introduction to Durkheim's ideas.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Durkheim's "Elementary Forms of the Religious Life" is one of the deepest books I've ever read, but I will leave others to speak of that.

I would like to complain about this particular edition, the "Oxford's World Classics" edition.

I have long been looking to replace my worn-out edition, and thought this offering (published 2001) would answer nicely. (Is it just me, or has this book been plagued with editions that have flimsy binding?)

Unfortunately, this site buries an important piece of information in its "Editorial Reviews" section: this edition is abridged.

Now, it's lightly abridged. The original, which I have a hand, is only slightly longer than what you're getting here.

Which is what puzzles me: why did they bother to abridge this at all? Printing the entire text would only have added about 30 pages to the thing. The lines they have disincluded seem, at least upon my examination, no more irrelevant or abstruse than what they've decided to include.


There are some good things about this edition, though. There are explanatory footnotes at the end of the text: useful glosses, not those "textual comparison" kind. (The footnotes on the bottom of each page are Durkheim's own.) There is a 29-page introduction. There is also an ethnographic map of Australia. But the biggest plus for me is that the (paperback) binding is super-sturdy and promises to last through many reads.

This is the translation by Carol Cosman, done in 2001 specifically for this edition.
To understand religion  Oct 23, 2007
Like Emile Durkheim, I was raised with a religious upbringing that didn't fit - I wanted to understand why we create religions in the first place and this book has answers.
In the early 1900's Durkheim looked for religious patterns among tribal cultures of Australia and North America. He saw how religion was used to organize tribal society. He saw how religions combine and evolve when tribes merge, which reveals a lot about their purpose.

Durkheim describes religious components of Gods, Sacred/Profane Objects and Rituals:

-Gods provide an identity for the tribe and are chosen to represent significant concepts in tribal life.
-Sacred or profane objects are artifacts given special importance by the tribe. Religious leaders control access to them.
-Rituals reinforce social cohesion through group activity and they provide a stage to interact with sacred/profane objects.

These components are used in religious life to differentiate between people and their roles. It can be hard to read at times, since there is a lot of conjecture over the evidence presented but the practicality of religion and its role within society is an important case well introduced.
a classic text.  Jun 1, 2007
A book of this kind needs no review; everybody intrerested in sociology of religion needs this text as one of the fundamental views of sociological reflection on the meaning of religion.
Surprisingly Modern  Oct 7, 2006
I've read Suicide and Division of Labor and was interested in a historical sort of way. Elementary Forms is positively shocking. Pages 8-18 and 433-48 will change your life. In those 25 or so pages he outlines a sociology of knowledge that presages the works of Mead, Berger, and the phenomenologists. He's 50 years ahead of Merleau-Ponty's great Phenomenology of Perception which treads over much of the same material. The rest of EFRL is interesting as well but if you read nothing else of Durkheim's read those pages. They completely reinvigorated the stuffy "father of sociology" I had known.
religion began from shared feelings of group security...  May 16, 2005
In this book Durkheim examines the origins of religion. He explains that religion developed from the collective feelings of security we gain from living in a group, and that these feelings are very powerful and important to us. Early tribes passed these feelings onto which ever object they were close to or the most frequent object in their area at the time of experiencing the emotions. The object could include a plant, vegetable or an animal, which would then be represented in a carving of stone or wood and then worshipped. This for Durkheim is the beginning of totemism, the first religion. He follows on to discuss how our first religion gave us an understanding of the world around us, our conception of space and time. For Durkheim 'the framework of our intelligence' is made up of the concepts of space, time, numbers and our existence, and they were born 'in religion'.

What emerges is no mere dry academic treatise, but an absolutely fascinating journey through topics such as the rain dances of the Pueblo Indians, the finger exercises of monkeys, and the hallucinations of alcoholics. Durkheim, of course, is the father of modern sociology and anthropology and even though sociology and anthropology have rejected many of his theories over the years he is still worth reading because the state of modern sociology and anthropology is polluted with all sorts of assumptions that are mostly politically correct eather than factually correct. The predominant belief that "we have come a long way since 1912" is completely misleading. Even though the fundamental assumption upon which Durkheim's work is based, that aboriginal practices are religion at its most basic and primitive, is no longer accepted as necessarily true - this theory was also current in Durkheim's time and he also discusses it over several chapters and effectively refutes it.

Durkheim's writing is suprisingly easy to read and very enjoyable. His examination of early societies gives much insight into their lives and how they understood the world to be. It's a fascinating read for anybody interested in human nature and early cultures. This is one of the three books that impacted me the most in my life.

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