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Felix Alcan, Paris, Emile Durkheim. A contribution by Emile Durkheim always commands attention. In this task he was ably assisted by his disciples and sympathizers, Hubert, Mauss and others. As the title indicates, the work deals with Australian totemism, but is also meant as a general theoretical inquiry into the principles of religious experience. Durkheim is a veteran in Australian ethnology. He had a vision and he brings a message. To these we must now turn. Theory of Religion. A belief in the supernatural presupposes the conception of a natural order.

The savage has no such conception nor does he know of the supernatural. He does not wonder nor inquire, but accepts the events of life as a matter of course. The attempts to derive religion from dreams, reflections, echoes, shadows, etc. Is it conceivable, he exclaims, that religion, so powerful in its appeal, so weighty in its social consequences, should in the last analysis prove to be nothing but an illusion, a naive aberration of the primitive mind?

Surely, that cannot be. At the root of religion there must lie some fact of nature or of experience, as powerful in its human appeal and as universal as religion itself. Durkheim sets out in search of that fact. Presently, the field of inquiry is limited by the reflection that the beings, objects, and events in nature cannot, by virtue of their intrinsic qualities, give rise to religion, for there is nothing in their make-up which could, in itself, explain the religious thrill.

This, indeed, is quite obvious, for do not the least significant beings and things in nature often become the objects of profound religious regard? Thus the source of religion may not be sought in natural experience but must in some significant way be interwoven with the conditions of human existence. Now the most fundamental and patent fact in all religion is the classification of all things, beings, events in experience into sacred and profane.

This dichotomy of the universe is coextensive with religion; what will explain the one will explain the other. The next important fact to be noted is that the content of religion is not exhausted by its emotional side. Emotional experience is but one aspect of religion, the other aspects being constituted by a system of concepts and a set of activities.

There is no religion without a church. The fundamental propositions thus advanced by Durkheim do not impress one as convincing. In claiming that primitive man knows no supernatural, the author fundamentally misunderstands savage mentality. Without in the least suspecting the savage of harboring the conception of a natural order, we nevertheless find him discriminating between that which falls within the circle of everyday occurrence and that which is strange, extraordinary, requiring explanation, full of power, mystery.

To be sure, the line of demarcation between the two sets of phenomena is not drawn by the savage where we should draw it, but surely [] we should not thereby be prevented from becoming aware of the existence of the line and of the conceptual differentiation of phenomena which it denotes.

If that is so, Durkheim commits his initial error, fatal in its consequences, in refusing to grant the savage the discriminating attitude towards nature and his own experience which he actually possesses. The error is fatal indeed, for the realm of the supernatural, of which Durkheim would deprive the savage, is precisely that domain of his experience which harbors infinite potentialities of emotional thrill and religious ecstasy.

For what, after all, is truth and what is illusion? Are not the highest religions, of undisputed significance and worldwide appeal, also based on illusions? Are not ideals, in more than one sense, illusions?

Should one therefore be shocked if religion were shown to have its primal roots in an illusion? A religion, says Durkheim, is an integral system of beliefs and practices referring to sacred things, things that are separated, prohibited; of beliefs and practices which unite into a moral community called the church all those who participate in them.

This apparently innocent definition involves a series of hypotheses. While all will concede that religion has a subjective as well as an objective side, that belief is wedded to ritual, the equating of the two factors in one definition arouses the suspicion of an attempt to derive one from the other, a suspicion justified by a further perusal of the work.

Closely related, moreover, as are belief and ritual, they belong to different domains of culture, their relations to tradition, for instance, and to individual experience, are quite different, and the methodology of research in the two domains must be radically different.

Unless this standpoint is taken at the outset, inextricable situations are bound to arise. That the body of believers constitutes a moral community is another proposition which one may set out to prove but which should not be taken for granted in an initial definition. The proposition further prejudices the investigator in favor of the social elements in religion and at the expense of the individual elements.

Theory of Totemism. As a substitute for the antiquated method Durkheim proposes the intensive study of a single area; for, he urges, the superficial comparison of half-authenticated facts separated from their cultural setting is pregnant with potentialities of error, while the thoroughgoing analysis of one instance may reveal a law.

The author thus takes as his starting-point the Australian clan, which he conceives as an undifferentiated primitive horde. Each horde takes its name from the animal or plant most common in the locality where the group habitually congregates. The assumption of the name is a natural process, a spontaneous expression of group solidarity which craves for an objective symbol.

To the totemic design or carving must be ascribed an analogous origin. Of this type of symbolism tattooing is the earliest form; not finding much evidence on that point. The paintings and carvings of the Australian being very crude and almost entirely unrealistic, the author is again tempted to refer to the American Indian, while ascribing the character of Australian totemic art to the low degree of their technical advancement. The theory of social control will show us how the concept of power, mana, the totemic principle, originates in the clan.

Here we take it for granted. Thus, on ceremonial occasions the individual is aware of the presence of a mysterious power; through the vertigo of his emotional ecstasy he sees himself surrounded by totemic symbols, churingas, nurtunjas, and to them he transfers his intuition of power; henceforth, they become for him the source from which that power flows.

Thus it comes that the totemic representations stand in the very center of the sacred totemic cycle of participation; the totemic animal or plant, and the human members of the totemic clan become sacred by reflection. When so much is granted, the other peculiarities of totemism follow as a matter of course.

Totemism is not restricted to the clans, their members, animals, carvings, but spreads over the entire mental universe of the Australian. The whole of nature is divided and apportioned between the clans, and all the beings, objects, phenomena of nature partake, to a [] greater or less degree, of the sacredness of the totemic animal or plant or thing with which they are classified.

This is the cosmogony of the totemic religion. Individual totemism, the worship of the guardian spirit, is a later derivative of clan totemism, for whereas clan totemism often appears alone, individual totemism occurs only in conjunction with clan totemism. Every religion has its individual as well as its social aspect.

The guardian-spirit cult is the individual aspect of totemism. The subjective embodiment, finally, of the totemic principle is the individual soul. But whence the totemic principle? Before passing to the theory of social control which brings an answer to the query, we must pause to examine the theory of totemism as here outlined.

For thus, he says, he might discover a law. Applicable as this concept may be in the physical sciences, the hope itself of discovering a law in the study no matter how intensive of one historical complex, must be regarded as hazardous. And presently one finds that there is more to the story, for Australia is selected for the primitiveness of its social organization it is based on the clan!

That at this stage of ethnological knowledge one as competent as Emile Durkheim should regard the mere presence of a clan organization as a sign of primitiveness is strange indeed.

For, quite apart from the fact that no form of clan system may be regarded as primitive, in the true sense of the word, clan systems may represent relatively high and low stages of social development. Moreover, even were the social organization of the Australian to be regarded as primitive, that would not guarantee the primitiveness of his religion; just as his in reality complex and highly developed form of social organization appears side by side with a markedly low type of industrial achievement.

Also from the point of view of the available data must the selection of Australia be regarded as unfortunate, for, in point of ethnography, Australia shares with South America the distinction of being our dark continent.

A most instructive study in ethnographic method could be written based on the errors committed by Howitt, and Spencer and Gillen, as well as Strehlow, our only modern authorities on the tribes from which Durkheim derives all his data [ 3 ].

The fact itself that the author felt justified in selecting the Australian area for his intensive analysis, shows plainly enough how far from realization still is the goal which his own life-work has at least made feasible, the rapprochement of ethnology and of sociology. But let us pass to the concrete points. The conception of a clan name being assumed as an expression of clan solidarity is suggestive enough. On the other hand, one must not be forgetful of the fact that a name serves to differentiate group from group, and that at all times names must have been given by group to group rather than assumed by each group for itself.

Moreover, groups of distinct solidarity such as phratries or the Iroquois maternal families, often appear without names in the instance of the maternal family this is indeed always the case , so that the consciousness of solidarity in a group may not be regarded as inevitably leading to expression in the form of a name.

As to the objective totemic symbol, the totemic carvings or drawings, it is discussed most loosely by our author. Not finding the totemic tattoo in Australia, he appeals to American examples, but this device, of course, does not strengthen his case except by showing that totemic tattoo occurs in America. Also, he completely neglects the cardinal differences between the totemic art of the Northwest Coast and that of the Aranda—to both of which he refers—in failing to note that whereas among the Tlingit or Haida the carved crests are positively associated with the totemic ideas, among the Aranda the churinga or ground and rock designs are at best but passive carriers of momentary although recurrent totemic associations.

It is, in fact, quite obvious that the geometrical art of the area has neither originated in nor been differentiated through totemic ideas, but being of an extra-totemic origin, has been subsequently drawn into the totemic cycle of associations without, however, ever becoming actively representative of them. Similarly, with the so-called totemic cosmogony, the fact that social organization tends to be reflected in mythology cannot indeed be disputed; this fact, however, altogether transcends, in its bearing, the problem of totemism.

Hence, when we find a sociological classification of the universe coexisting with a totemic complex, we are fully justified in regarding the two phenomena as genetically distinct and secondarily associated.

The burden of proof, at any rate, falls upon those who would assert the contrary. Whereas that belief must be regarded as an all but universal aspect of the religion of the American Indian, it has nowhere developed more prolifically than among the tribes of the Plateau area who worship not at the totemic shrine. Having satisfied himself that all the elements which, according to his conception of religion, constitute a true religion, are present in totemism, Durkheim declares totemism to represent the earliest form of a religion which, while primitive, lacks none of those aspects which a true religion must have.

In this latter respect totemism cannot compare with either animal worship, or ancestor worship, or idolatry, or fetichism, or any of the multifarious forms of worship of nature, spirit, ghost and god. Several of these forms of religious belief are also more widely diffused than totemism and must be regarded as more primitive, differing from totemism in their independence from any definite form of social organization.

The Theory of Social Control. Social standards, ideals, moods, impose themselves upon the individual with such categorical force as to arouse the consciousness of external pressure emanating from a force transcending the powers of the individual. Through the action of this social force the individual on certain occasions behaves, feels, and thinks in a way which differs from the psychic activities of his [] daily experience.

The psychic situation of the orator and his audience, on the one hand, and, on the other, the actions and psychic experiences of individuals in the crusades or during revolutions, may serve as examples.

Now the social unit with which the Australian is most intimately allied is the clan. The life of the clan mates consists of periods of non-eventful daily activities alternating with periods of violent emotional disturbances accompanying ceremonial occasions. The periodic recurrence of these two sets of ideas, emotions, acts, cannot but evoke in the individual the tendency to classify the totality of his experience into profane and sacred.

The former embraces all that is strictly individual, the latter all that is social, The sense of external power which acts through the individual on social occasions will tend to crystallize into a concept of an undifferentiated, powerful, mysterious force, which pervades nature and absorbs the individual who feels himself external to that power and yet part of it.

This power, as it appears to the Australian clansman, may be called the totemic principle [ 5 ]. It is not the clan emblem, the totemic design, which is worshiped, nor the totemic animal, nor the various beings and things which form part of the totemic cycle of participation; but the totemic principle, the mysterious substance which pervades them all and constitutes their holiness.

It was shown in the preceding section how this sense of power, craving for objective, expression, attaches itself to the totemic symbols which surround the individual on ceremonial occasions and thus gives the initial stimulus to the formation of a sacred totemic world.



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Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse.



Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse


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