In constructing his sociological theory of religion, Durkheim was influenced by the ideas of Robertson Smith and Fustel de Coulanges. Even more, he was negatively influenced by the theoretical views of Sir Edward Tylor and Max Muller, and Durkheim’s attempt to refute these views is one of the more interesting aspects of The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Tylor’s theory of animism had postulated that early humans had acquired beliefs in souls and dismembered spirits as a consequence of dreams and reflections about deaths, and that this idea of dismembered spirits had been transferred upon animals, objects, and places of the physical world. With this perspective, Tylor argued that a “minimal” definition of religion would include a belief in spirits or souls. In contrast, Muller’s theory of naturalism assumed that early people had been overwhelmed by the forces of nature, and that the earliest gods and spirits were actually personifications of natural phenomena.
Durkheim argued that these two theories were demeaning to the very idea of religion, for they implied that religious beliefs were only “a tissue of illusions” which did not have any basis in reality. If religions were based on such a shaky foundation, they would not have survived in all known societies; Durkheim declared that it was “inadmissible” to suggest that irrational illusions could account for the great influence of religion in the evolution of law,...
(The entire section is 1363 words.)
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