Definition by the ideas of "spiritual beings" and "the supernatural" thus eliminated, Durkheim turned to the construction of his own definition. Emphasizing that religion is less an indivisible whole than a complex system of parts, he began by dividing these parts into rites (determined modes of action) and beliefs (collective representations); and since rites can be distinguished from other actions only by their object, and the nature of that object is determined by the beliefs, Durkheim insisted on defining the latter first. "All known religious beliefs," he observed, "present one common characteristic: they presuppose a classification of all the things, real and ideal, of which men think, into two classes or opposed groups, generally designated by two distinct terms which are translated well enough by the words profane and sacred. 32 The characteristic by which the latter is distinguished from the former, moreover, is simply that it is distinguished absolutely : 33 "In all the history of human thought," Durkheim emphasized, "there exists no other example of two categories of things so profoundly differentiated or so radically opposed to one another." 34 Durkheim thus arrived at his preliminary definition of the essential parts of any religious system: sacred things are those isolated and protected by powerful interdictions; profane things are those which, according to those interdictions, must remain at a distance from their sacred counterparts; religious beliefs are representations which express the nature of sacred things and their relations, either with one another or with profane things; religious rites are rules of conduct which prescribe how one should behave in the presence of sacred things; and finally, where "a certain number of sacred things sustain relations of co-ordination or subordination with each other in such a way as to form a system having a certain unity," the beliefs and rites thus united constitute a religion . 35
Terms and Methods
Methods: quantitative method, qualitative method, ethnography
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