Emile Durkheim and Max Weber: Thoughts and Concepts on the Dynamics of Religion and Its Purpose

Published: 2021-06-23
1888 words
7 pages
16 min to read
Wesleyan University
Type of paper: 
Term paper
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Religion is a part of every society, and it is often shaped by the context of the society it exists. Various sociologists will argue that it is a reflection of the particular society and remains to be socially constructed (Johnstone, 2015). It is a concept known by all including those without attachment to a specific religious affiliation. Sociology views religion as a group activity, and thus sociologists will address it from the perspective of groups. People will organize themselves in fellowships, cells, congregations, denominations or dioceses and the task of sociology comes about in the analysis of the structure and functioning of these different groups from the group level (Johnstone, 2015).

With religion being organized in groups its influence is often felt on other members of society other than within the group including nonmembers and other institutions in society. Sociology also believes that religion has an effect on the individual just as other groups that center around the persons workplace, peers or family. It often works on identifying the level of the influence of religion on the individual. It is an aspect that touches on the human being, and many sociologists have a fascination with the mystic side of religion, and thus many have embarked on exploring it. Emile Durkheim and Max Weber are one of the sociologists identified for their study of the sociology of religion.

The paper addresses the issue of the sociology of religion specifically the thoughts and concepts developed by Emile Durkheim and Max Weber concerning the subject. Both sociologists had their thoughts on the dynamics of religion, its purpose, how it impacts the individual and its functionality within the group. Both sociologists have points of agreement in their theories concerning religion. Weber and Durkheim will also disagree on various issues that touch on religion. Therefore, the paper will analyze the similarities in Weber and Durkheims theories concerning religion and the differences in religion that exist in their theories. Therefore, an analysis of the theories of Weber and Durkheim reveals that; Weber mainly views religion about the economic system and ethics present in society while Durkheim believes that religion develops a sense of moral obligation in a person towards adherence of what society demands.

Max Weber viewed religion as an influential force in society (Mommsen & Osterhammel, 2013). His research focuses on various religious groups across the world, and he makes significant strides in the analysis the various religious affiliates. His discovery of the many religious groups and the masses of people who identify with these groups gives Weber the right to conclude that it is an influential part of any society (Mommsen & Osterhammel, 2013). He studied the Protestant religion where he developed the essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Other religions that he delves into include Hinduism, Buddhism, Ancient Judaism, Confucianism, and Taoism of China. His comprehensive study of Judaism was however interrupted by his sudden death in the year 1920(Mommsen & Osterhammel, 2013). For example, in his most famous work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,' he associates various Protestant aspects to hard work and financial success. He believed that certain ideas in the protestant group especially sinful people are never assured of their part in Gods elect whom God offers His grace of salvation. Therefore many Protestants fear eternal damnation and thus would want to be right with God. They try to do this through hard work and eventually financial success because they believe that these aspects of the individual or the society represent the hallmark of the grace of God. He viewed that such a belief coupled with the striving for a life of abstinence from worldly pleasures were the encouraging factors towards the accumulation of wealth by people (Mommsen & Osterhammel, 2013). He, however, believes that the notion developed in people was not the goal of these religious groups and beliefs but a by-product arising from the advice place on the doctrines and the logic attached to them. Therefore, the advice and logical analysis of the religious doctrines would encourage people to pursue economic gain while they practiced self-denial.

Max Weber believes that religion is the backbone of capitalism (Andreski, 2013). As is evident especially among Protestants and Catholic in Webers research their religious doctrines foster hard work and economic gain. Capitalism on the other hand advocates for the fair and private ownership of property (Andreski, 2013). He believes that for a way of life as conducive as capitalism to have existed it needs to have originated from somewhere as a culture common among a group of people. He, however, refutes that capitalism was as a result of the superstructure of economic experiences (Andreski, 2013). He believed it to be characteristic of the hard work among Protestants and also a sense of stewardship because of its resulting consequences. Weber views capitalism as a calling rather than just any concept. The calling is based on the Protestants desire for them to be among the elect of God thus receiving His grace. Through this, Protestants worked on developing economically and paying their dues on time to remain credible. Economic gain meant monetary acquisitiveness, which Weber finds positive about Franklin and New England in general (Andreski, 2013). His view was that one had to have a spirit of identifying capitalism as a duty-bound labor to effectively engage in capitalism. Therefore, according to him, capitalism was not just any economic aspect put a concept that was based on the Protestant belief of a sign of salvation and a form of pursuit of profit with religion. He believed that the push behind capitalism was purely for profit with religion and not for greed or ambition. It acted as a motivation for hard work among Protestants thus helping develop the concept of capitalism.

Max Weber delves into the study of different groups of religion, and his focus is on the Protestants (Andreski, 2013). His focus was on ascetic Protestantism especially the forms of Methodism, Calvinism, Baptist, and pietism. He believed that none of these groups existed independent of each other. His thought was that moral conduct that was similar could be found in all four sects. He first looked at Calvinism where he identified the concept of predestination. The group believed that God preordained those who were to be saved and those who were damned. He believed that the concept is what set individuals in the group on a lonely path to a predetermined destination (Andreski, 2013). He recognized that predestination was a concept that was present in all the sects of ascetic Protestantism. According to Weber Pietism originated from predestination and members of the group lived a life far from all worldly temptations and each detail of the sect was dictated by what they believed to be the will of God. Methodism believed in good deeds. The sect believed that good deeds were the basis for ones grace and grace ways the way of salvation for all. Baptism, on the other hand, is built on a set of aspects. Their main unification comes about through their belief of the church or a community that is only made up of true believers (Andreski, 2013). They believed that worldly connections were a distraction from according God His due respect just as Calvinism did. At the end of his study of religion, Weber combined the issue of asceticism with capitalism. He pointed out that people, especially Protestants, strived for a life that was free from the influence of worldly pleasure (Andreski, 2013). Therefore, they would work hard for economic gain while practicing self-denial on the other hand. According to Weber, this was the only way through which Protestants would be among the elect of God and receive His grace.

Emile Durkheim, on the other hand, set out to prove that religion is not just any divinely or supernaturally defined concept but that it is a product of the society (Edles, 2016). In his work, The Elementary Forms he refers to religion as eminently social. He viewed it mainly as a group concept and believed that religious representations are collective and they express the collective realities of society. Various social aspects like rites according to Durkheim represent a manner of acting which arises from the midst of groups that are assembled (Edles, 2016). These rites are expected to maintain certain forms of mental statuses within the group. Many of these social aspects according to him if classified as religious doctrines are therefore the result of social affairs and the products of collective thought. Therefore, he identified the origins of religion to be in society, and he argued that it would act as a source of identification and solidarity for individuals within a society (Edles, 2016). According to him, religion did not majorly impact on an individuals economic gain and self-denial but acted as a form of reinforcement for the social norms and morals collectively held by members of a given society. He placed religion far from a fantasy despite its natural origin and purported that it is an essential aspect of social cohesion, social control in society and acts as a purpose for people. He also viewed religion as a form of communication and gathering where people would interact and reaffirm their social norms. Unlike Max Weber who associates religion with a Supreme Being and especially God for Protestants, Durkheim works on developing his definition of religion and in the process eliminates the thoughts that religion is based on gods and spirits. He believed that a relationship could only be developed with these beings through the conscious because they are also conscious (Edles, 2016). Therefore, the doctrines within religion play the role of governing peoples relations with such beings. Therefore, religion will never exist unless the appropriate conscious processes are at work (Emile, 2013). Durkheim viewed that the attachment of religion to gods and spirits overlooked two facts, which are that there are numerous religious groups including Brahminism, Jainism, and Buddhism where the concepts of spirits and gods are significantly absent. Second is that even within those religious groups where these concepts are accepted various rites exist independent of the idea of spirits and gods. According to him, no religious powers originate from gods and spirits, and it is more than the idea of the two (Edles, 2016).

Throughout his career, Durkheim was concerned with solidarity in the society and therefore viewed religion as a source of social cohesion. Many religions then and now were in the form of groups and within these groups, individuals would pull together to accomplish various tasks (Edles, 2016). Therefore, it acts as a form of pulling force for people to work together both mentally and physically. They do this in the form of religious assemblies or religious services. Through working together, religion acts as a way through which social morals and beliefs are frequently reaffirmed within the minds of every member of the society. According to Durkheim, it is necessary for members of the community to frequently reaffirm the collective morals and beliefs as is characteristic of the many religious groups (Edles, 2016). It will ensure that they are not forgotten or become weak in strength as would happen if left alone for long periods. Therefore Durkheim explains that religion helps to maintain the influence of society in which case society is a representation of the collective norms and beliefs held by a similar group of individuals. As he explains in his book, it is a unifie...

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