Introduction to the Sociology of Missions


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Introduction to Education

Religion goes beyond the idea of gods or spirits. We must look elsewhere for its essence. The opposition between sacred and profane things does not come from the fact that sacred things belong to a class superior in dignity, but merely from the fact that they are distinct and separate. Another characteristic is necessary to distinguish religion [] from magic, and this is the existence of religious churches, whereas the practice of magic does not require a church.

With the help of this definition Durkheim sets about the search for the elementary religion he desires to study. Neither the theory of animism, which finds in dreams the first beginning of the evolution of religion, nor the theory of naturism, which finds it in certain natural forces, serves his purpose, since the germ of the opposition that separates the profane from the sacred cannot be found in the nature either of man or of the universe.

Both these views are obliged to admit the existence of hallucinations and to regard religion as a mere illusion.

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Behind animism and naturism there must exist another kind of cult more fundamental and primitive. It is that which ethnologists have called totemism. Totemism was first discovered among the aboriginal inhabitants of America. Then Grey pointed out its existence in Australia. Sir James Frazer studied in it , and his investigations were followed by those of Robertson Smith.

The most important works on Australian totemism are those of Baldwin Spencer and Gillen, and those of the German missionary Karl Strehlow. Professor Durkheim uses them constantly as sources of information. He devotes his attention especially to Australian totemism, a method which permits him to attain a greater precision.

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Only occasionally he draws facts and illustrations from American totemism, when these are able to throw fresh light on the subject. Totemism cannot be separated from a very primitive social organization—organization in clans. The members of a clan consider themselves as related to one another, not from the fact of blood connexion but from the fact that they bear the same name.

The totem belongs to one clan only, and no other clan can bear the same name. It is generally the name of some animal or vegetable species. The totem is also an emblem, a kind of badge, a coat of arms. Its image is reproduced everywhere, drawn on rocks and on the earth. The members of the clan cut their hair in such a way as to imitate the external aspect of their totem and also tattoo themselves with it.


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The totem has finally a religious character. It is the type of sacred things. Australians make constant use in their rites of certain instruments called churinga.

The churinga are made of wood or of polished stone, generally of oval or oblong shape; on them is engraved a design representing the totem. They are kept in a sacred place which profane people are not allowed to approach, and where wounded animals cannot be killed. They are sacred from the mere fact that they bear the emblem of the totem. Totemic animals or vegetables are sacred for a similar reason; they are not allowed to be eaten, and this prohibition is frequently absolute for profane people.

The individual man himself is also sacred. He is regarded as a kinsman of the totemic animal since he bears the same name. He believes himself to be not only a man but also a totemic animal or plant. Certain parts of his person are especially sacred—blood, which women ought not to see flowing, and hair, which is used to make belts or fillets for the cult.

Some scholars believed that they could explain totemism by deriving it from animism or naturism, but Professor Durkheim finds these explanations inadequate. Accordingly he tries to explain totemism by itself, and seeks for the ideas which gave rise to it and have a religious character.

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Thus far he has described various beliefs relating to sacred things; he now appeals to the [] notion of an impersonal force which is called mana in Melanesia. This idea gives unity to totemism and explains the sacred character assigned to so many different things. This sacred character does not come from the things themselves but from a principle common to them all, common to totem animals as well as to the members of the clan. The totem cult is fundamentally related to this impersonal force, which is a kind of god immanent in the world and diffused in an innumerable variety of things.

The Australian does not represent these forces as immaterial, but gives them a material form of an animal or of a plant. The cult which is offered to the totem is offered to this force through it. The force is both material and moral. It is true that the native does not conceive this mana as clearly as we can, but we can find the idea in a developed form in societies where the evolution of totemism is more advanced. The Iroquois call it orenda , the Sioux, wakan ; they speak of it as if it were a supernatural and immaterial force which can appear in anything. It may therefore be inferred that the idea belongs to the spirit of totemism.

This principle regarded by some tribes as absolutely general is in others restricted to the clan by a kind of specialization. It is the original matter out of which have been constructed all gods and spirits. It precedes animism. The principle of totemism is the first of human religious ideas. The idea of mana gives to Professor Durkheim the explanation of totemism. The problem of the origin of totemism is thus the problem of the origin of mana.

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How and out of what materials have men been led to construct the idea of mana? The totem is at once the emblem of the god and of the society. It means that god and society are one, and that the god of the clan is the clan itself. The relation of the individual to society is one of dependence [] similar to that of worshippers with their gods.

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Society pursues ends which are not those of the individual, and it demands that the individual should sacrifice his own interests. It requires him to surrender his desires and sometimes his life, and he obeys. He has for it a feeling of respect which prevents him from doing what it forbids. Further, society has on the individual a strengthening and vitalizing influence which is not always easy to detect but which is real. When a man is in communion of thought with his fellowmen he has increased confidence in himself.

If he does his duty, he finds in the manifestations of esteem or affection a feeling of comfort, and the sentiments of his fellowmen towards him increase his self-respect. We owe to society the gifts which create civilization. Towards these forces which we feel confusedly in the world about us, our feelings are different from those awakened by ordinary and material things. There are in us two kinds of feelings, and there exist for us two kinds of realities—the world of sacred things and the world of profane things.

Society itself makes things sacred by the respect which it requires for certain words and persons, and the care which it takes to ensure that they are respected. The Australian clan is better able than a more progressive society to awaken in the mind an idea of the divine. The native is more closely dependent than the civilized man on his social group. The life of Australian societies goes through two very different periods—one of dispersion, when everyone is occupied with hunting and fishing and there are no religious ceremonies, and one of concentration, when the clan assembles itself and lives the most intense social life.

There is singing, dancing, howling; the native passes out of himself and believes himself to be transported into another world. This period cannot last very long, and the man returns to a calm and stagnant life again. Out of this contrast arises the opposition between the sacred and the profane life, between sacred and profane things. The distinction between the sacred and the profane is a social creation.

Society itself is the god. This theory gives religion a real foundation and explains it without treating it as a mere illusion.

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It remains to be shown how this theory explains the ideas of souls of spirits and of gods, for if these ideas are not at the basis of totemism, they nevertheless exist along with it. From an analysis of the beliefs about the soul which he finds among the Australians doctrines of reincarnation , Professor Durkheim concludes that the soul is only a part of the totemic principle, some mana individualized and incarnated in a particular man. The ideas of gods and of spirits have a similar explanation. The spirits of ancestors are conceived in the same way as individual souls whose existence they help to explain.

The great god of the tribe is only a more important ancestral spirit. Totemism has thus a real unity in its complexity.


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It prepares the way for the religions by which it has been supplanted. His aim is to discover the characteristic attitudes adopted by primitive man in the celebration of his cult. This study enables Professor Durkheim to control the results to which he has been led. He dwells again on the fact that society is the source of sacred things. The periodic rites revive and recall to memory the collective sense and invigorate it. We cannot follow Professor Durkheim through the long analysis of the forms of the primitive cult. We can only note that he distinguishes a negative cult, consisting of a system of prohibitions and ascetic rites, and a positive cult, in the ceremonies of which the beginnings of the ritual which is to have a large place in more advanced religions are to be found—the offerings and the communion meal.

As he proceeds in his study, Professor Durkheim shows the religious origin of one category after another. His chapter on the cosmology of totemism helps him to explain how the idea of class has a religious origin. With regard to the idea of mana , for instance, he shows that the idea of religious force is the prototype of the general idea of force. In speaking of the soul, he explains how the category of personality took shape. The TJA is published twice yearly. The collection not only includes prehistoric and early specimens, but also modern artifacts that reflect changes in the various tribal groups.

The Museum collection also has more than 2, artifacts from the minority peoples of mainland China, as well as nearly 2, artifacts from Southeast Asia, the Pacific, indigenous North America, and Africa. It archives audiovisual field recordings from researchers at the Institute, and the audiovisual room currently holds videotapes on folk religion and folk art. Most audiovisual data have been transferred to digital formats for long-term preservation. Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica.

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Introduction to the Sociology of Missions Introduction to the Sociology of Missions
Introduction to the Sociology of Missions Introduction to the Sociology of Missions
Introduction to the Sociology of Missions Introduction to the Sociology of Missions
Introduction to the Sociology of Missions Introduction to the Sociology of Missions
Introduction to the Sociology of Missions Introduction to the Sociology of Missions
Introduction to the Sociology of Missions Introduction to the Sociology of Missions
Introduction to the Sociology of Missions Introduction to the Sociology of Missions
Introduction to the Sociology of Missions Introduction to the Sociology of Missions

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