Emile Durkheim (1858–1917)

The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life,
Translated from the French by Joseph Ward Swain

NY: The Free Press, 1965
 (Originally published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1915)


[62] A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them. 


[It is important to read the preliminary remarks that begin on page 39.  His observations include:


[39] The supernatural or “the world of the mysterious.”


[43] The “idea of mystery is not of primitive origin.  It was not given

to man.


[44–49] The idea of the presence of divinity in religion is not essential, since there are religions— Buddhism and Jainism included—that are indifferent to divinity, however interpreted.

[50] Religion is more than the idea of gods or spirits, and consequently cannot be defined exclusively in relation to these latter.


[44] Since “the object of religion is to regulate our relations with these special beings [= divinity], there can be no religion except where there are prayers, sacrifices, propitiatory rites, etc.”


[50] “Thus there are rites without gods, and even rites from which gods are derived.  All religious powers do not emanate from divine personalities, and there are relations of cult which have other objects than uniting man to a deity.”


[Submitted by James A. Santucci]