Lang (Andrew), The Secret of the Totem, London/New York/Bombay, Longmans, Green and Co, 1905, x-215p.
Note de la rédaction
Weatherly (Ulysses Grant), « Reviews – The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. A Study in Religious Sociology. By Émile Durkheim. Translated from the French by Joseph Ward Swain. New York, Macmillan, 1916. Pp. xi-456. $4.00 », The American Journal of Sociology (Chicago), 22 (4), Jan. 1917, p. 561-563
Source(s) numérique(s) identifiée(s):
- 1 [« Introduction », Durkheim 1915, p. 2]
- 2 [« Introduction », Durkheim 1915, p. 3]
- 3 [« Introduction », Durkheim 1915, p. 10]
Most of the essays on Australian social organization which have been inspired by the books of Howitt, Strehlow, and Spencer and Gillen have laid most stress on clan organization and the marriage system. The present volume concerns itself chiefly with the religious aspects of Australian sociology. M. Durkheim believes that the true explanation of totemism is the religious one, and he has taken the Australians as the basis of his study of religious sociology because he is convinced that they, being of the most primitive type, carry us nearest to the sources of religious life. His initial position is that we shall be least likely to err if we assume that religious phenomena are to be taken literally, for all primitive religions “hold to reality and express it,” and “there are no religions which are false.” This is the basis of his objection to the animistic and the nature-worship theories of the origin of religion. Moreover, primitive religious concepts do not necessarily involve the supernatural, for miraculous interventions are, to primitive men, a part of the natural order. The central fact about religion is that it is “something eminently social. Religious representations are collective representations which express collective realities.” In all religions there are two comprehensive categories, beliefs and rites, and all involve a classification of phenomena in two groups, the sacred and the profane.
Now it is in connection with the totemic symbol that Durkheim finds the clearest separation of the sacred from the profane. He differs  from the majority of recent scholars in making the totem the religious center about which the clan is formed, for he insists that clan-relationship is not based on blood-relationship. Totemism is really an elementary religion, holding latent those ideas which later will develop into conceptions of divinities. Among most of the Australian tribes the religious idea has as yet hardly developed beyond the conception of an impersonal religious force, or a quasi-divine principle immanent in certain classes of men and things and thought of under the forms of animals or plants. The totemic object is the symbol of the clan, much as the flag is the symbol of the modern nation. While utterly rejecting Tylor’s theory that tribal or clan totemism is a form of ancestor-worship, Durkheim holds that the individual totem, which is a quite different thing, has the same characteristics as the ancestral spirit. To ancestors also is ascribed credit for the tribal culture. These culture-heroes are an intermediate type between the ancestral genius and the later tribal god, and they have had their share in developing a sense of tribal unity.
- 4 [« The Negative Cult and its Functions. The Ascetic Rites », Durkheim 1915, Book 3, chap. 1, p. 308(...)
It cannot be said that M. Durkheim has entirely escaped two pitfalls which have caught so many recent students of social origins. He occasionally reads back into the savage mind something of the abstruse mental processes of the critical scholar, and he attempts to find inclusive generalizations which shall cover the most heterogeneous and often contradictory facts. However useful may be the “sacred-profane” classification, it does not follow that “the religious life and the profane life cannot coexist in the same unit of time” (p. 308), for very many religious rites, as much among the Australians themselves as elsewhere, have a distinctly economic and utilitarian basis. It is no doubt true that the gradual separation of the two concepts resulted in the setting aside of feast days and holy days, but these are clearly not primordial.
Less open to question is the theory that religious taboo (interdict, as M. Durkheim prefers to call it) receives its chief sanction from the need of separating the sacred and profane. This “negative rite” marks the beginning of asceticism, which is rightly held to be a primary and essential element in religion, rather than a late and abnormal one. But it is in the “positive rites” of early religion that the greater social institutions, as well as science itself, are found to have their origin. These rites among primitive people are almost the only means of expression for the group consciousness.
- 5 [« Preliminary Questions », Durkheim 1915, Book 1, p. 21-97]
- 6 [« The Elementary Beliefs », Durkheim 1915, Book 2, p. 99-296]
The book is divided into three parts. Part I treats of “Preliminary Questions,” and particularly of theories about the origin of religion. Part II discusses “Elementary Beliefs,” by which is meant totemism.
- 7 [« The Principal Ritual Attitudes », Durkheim 1915, Book 3, p. 297-414]
- 8 [Andrew Lang, « The Arunta Anomaly », The Secret of the Totem, London/New York/Bombay, Longmans, Gr (...)
 One chapter contains a valuable critical analysis of the theories of Tylor, Wilken, Jevons, Frazer, Lang, Hill-Tout, and Boas. Part III discusses “The Principal Ritual Activities.” M. Durkheim has certainly not made good all his objections to the views of Tylor and Lang, nor has he here, any more than in his preliminary studies, published some years ago in L’Année Sociologique, made out a wholly satisfactory case for his own theory of the origin of totemic groupings. That three such scholars as Frazer, Lang, and Durkheim, using identical materials, should arrive at entirely diverse results is a proof, not only of the intricacy of the subject, but also of the imperfection of our present knowledge of it. For instance, how shall we explain those cases where the totemic objects are natural phenomena or heavenly bodies, when all our theories presuppose plants and animals? Or what shall we conclude about the “Arunta anomaly,” even with all that Lang and Durkheim have said in seeking to explain it? M. Durkheim’s views have at least the merit of consistency. He is conscious that his theories do not cover all the facts of totemism as found among the American Indians. He explains this by the claim that American totemism, as we actually know it, represents an advanced type of the institution when its primitive elements had either begun to disintegrate or had perhaps become corrupted by contact with European ideas.
8 [Andrew Lang, « The Arunta Anomaly », The Secret of the Totem, London/New York/Bombay, Longmans, Green and Co, 1905, chap. 4, p. 59-90]Haut de page
Pour citer cet article
Weatherly Ulysses Grant, « Reviews », The American Journal of Sociology (Chicago), 22 (4), January 1917, p. 561-563
Ulysses Grant Weatherly, « Reviews », Archives de sciences sociales des religions [En ligne], La première réception des Formes (1912-1917) (S. Baciocchi, F. Théron, eds.), II, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2013, consulté le 29 mars 2017. URL : http://assr.revues.org/24419Haut de page
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