‘If religion generated everything that is essential in society, this is because the idea of society is the soul of religion.’
In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912), Émile Durkheim set himself the task of discovering the enduring source of human social identity. He investigated what he considered to be the simplest form of documented religion – totemism among the Aborigines of Australia. Aboriginal religion was an avenue ‘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 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 origin and nature of religion and society. This new, lightly abridged edition provides an excellent introduction to Durkheim’s ideas.