King (Irving), The Development of Religion. A Study in Anthropology and Social Psychology, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1910, xxiii-371 p.
Reviews of Books
Note de la rédaction
King (Irving), « Reviews of Books - Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse; (Le système totemique en Australie). Par Émile Durkheim. Paris, Félix Alcan, 1912. - pp. 647 + a map », The Philosophical Review (New York / Lancaster), 22 (4), Jul. 1913, p. 431-434
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The present study, avowedly a sociological rather than an anthropological and historical one, is an important contribution to the literature dealing with the interpretation of primitive religious phenomena. Its object is to determine the elementary forms of religious ideas and practices through the study of a definite primitive religious system. The beliefs and practices of the natives of Australia constitute the material chosen for the study. A secondary problem in the research is that of the genesis of the fundamental categories of thought, which, the author believes, are religious and hence social in origin.
He first criticises various conceptions of the origin of religion. For instance, it does not grow out of a sense of the supernatural, because this idea cannot be held to be primitive. Neither can the idea of deities be regarded as basic, for there are atheistic religions and in those recognizing gods there are rites which do not imply any idea of divinity.
- 1 [Orig.] « Les croyances religieuses sont des représentations qui expriment la nature des choses sac (...)
The author develops his own conception by first distinguishing between beliefs and rites. The primary character of religious beliefs is their tendency to see in the world a bipartite division of existence into things sacred and profane. This, he holds, is the first criterion of religious ideas. “Religious beliefs are representations which express the nature of sacred things and the relations they sustain either with one another or with the profane things, while the rites are the rules of conduct which indicate how man ought to bear himself in relation to the sacred objects.” He makes the further point here that the sacred is not to be regarded as distinct from the profane merely in degree. The difference is one of nature. The two classes of objects to the primitive mind form two worlds, different in essence and mutually incompatible. The problem of the book is to determine the origin of this fundamental dualism in human thinking. In passing, he remarks that religion is to be distinguished from magic in that the former is social, a matter in which the collective life manifests itself, while magic is individualistic and the expression of private interests. 
- 2 [Orig.] « Une religion est un système solidaire de croyances et de pratiques relatives à des choses (...)
- 3 [Orig.] « une chose éminemment collective », Cf. « Définition du phénomène religieux et de la relig (...)
Thus he leads up to his definition of religion as “a compact system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things which serve to bind together into a single moral community all those who share these beliefs.” The social element he regards as quite as important as the distinction of objects into sacred and profane. “Religion is essentially a collective affair.”
Then follows an acute criticism of animism and naturism as the most primitive forms of religion. The dream cannot explain the origin of the idea of the soul; cults of the dead are certainly not primitive, nor is the anthropomorphic view of nature primary. Naturism is unable to explain the distinction of things into the two classes mentioned above.
Totemism is, however, a truly primitive type of belief. In this study he purposely confines himself to an analysis of Australian totemism as a sufficiently large and complex field, being free, however, to draw upon material relating to the American Indians for illustrations confirming his position. On the whole, he shows by his references that he is quite familiar with American ethnological studies.
His discussion of totemism takes up its relation to the name of the clan, the manner in which it is acquired; the totems of phratries and of inter-marrying classes; the totem as an emblem and the different methods of representing the totem in drawing, carving, and tattooing; the sacred character of the totemic animals and plants j the prohibition upon eating them; the greater degree of the sanctity of the emblem than of the totemic plant or animal; man’s supposed descent from the totemic object; the classifications of objects into clans, phratries, and classes; the religious significance of these classifications; the cosmological system based on totemism; and finally individual and sex totems.
He next discusses various theories of the origin of totemistic ideas, criticising those which presuppose antecedent religious beliefs, such as cults of ancestors or of nature; also the theories of Frazer, Boas and others who regard collective totemism as derived from an individual form, and the recent theory of Frazer that it is conceptual and definitely related to certain localities, and the theory of Lang that it is merely a matter of names. All of these theories he regards as dependent upon the postulate of antecedent religious beliefs.
The author’s own theory is that totemism is an expression of the truly primitive notion of the world as pervaded by an impersonal force, to some extent mechanical, but having also something of moral significance. He refers to the wakonda of the Sioux, orenda of the Iroquois, the mana of the Melanesians, and points out the relation of  these notions to the totemistic beliefs and practices found among the Arunta of Australia. The notion of the impersonal force is, he holds, logically prior to all ideas of mythical personalities, and is moreover not only the beginning of the concept of religious force, but is also the prototype of the notion of force in general. He further shows by an extensive array of evidence that the social group is the medium in which this idea develops and acquires its religious meaning. Primitive Australian society oscillates between periods of dispersion and concentration, and the development of social feelings depends on the periods when the tribe congregates. In these times also religious ideas have their origin. The collective life of the tribe is conceived in terms of the totem.
Religion is thus not a product of fear; it is rather an expression of a primitive idealism, which is a general characteristic of the collective mental life of the group.
The author next analyzes Australian ideas of the soul, of spirits, and of gods, showing, as he believes, that they depend on the totemic notions which symbolize in various ways the primitive idea of an impersonal potency.
Religious rites are then taken up; first those relating to taboo and then those of sacrifice. With reference to both, the underlying idea is that of dealing with the impersonal force in such ways as to avoid injury and to profit as much as possible by it. In sacrifices of the oblation type, for example, the superior spirits, while rendering human life possible, also depend upon the worshipful rites of men for their own continued existence. Mimetic, representative, and piacular rites are also discussed.
- 4 Cf. The Development of Religion. 1910. [Irving King, The Development of Religion. A Study in Anthro (...)
- 5 [Orig.] « En résumé, les deux pôles de la vie religieuse correspondent aux deux états opposés par l (...)
To the reviewer, this exhaustive study is very suggestive and very fundamental to the understanding of the beginnings of religion. He has himself already pointed out the basic importance of the notion of impersonal power and of the medium of the social group as a means of generating the religious idea.4 To quote finally from Durkheim: “The two poles of the religious life correspond to the two opposing conditions found in all social life. There is between the sacred pomp and sacred day of humiliation the same contrast which exists between conditions of social well-being and depression”.
- 6 [Orig.] « Le processus fondamental est toujours le même ; seules, les circonstances le colorent dif (...)
“The fundamental process is always the same, only circumstances color it differently. In a word, the unity and the diversity of social life produces at the same time the unity and the diversity of sacred beings and of sacred things.”
In conclusion the author generalizes as to the broad social meaning  of his discussion. As all religion is a cosmology, we must not think to analyze religious thought without encountering in our pathway the notions which rule logical thought,—notions of time, of space, of classification, of force, of causality, and of personality. The author shows how these ideas are born in religion and in what social causes they result. The sociology of religion thus brings an important contribution to the theory of knowledge.
1 [Orig.] « Les croyances religieuses sont des représentations qui expriment la nature des choses sacrées et les rapports qu’elles soutiennent soit les unes avec les autres, soit avec les choses profanes. Enfin, les rites sont des règles de conduite qui prescrivent comment l’homme doit se comporter avec les choses sacrées. », Cf. « Définition du phénomène religieux et de la religion », Durkheim 1912, livre 1, chap. 1, p. 56
2 [Orig.] « Une religion est un système solidaire de croyances et de pratiques relatives à des choses sacrées, c’est-à-dire séparées, interdites, croyances et pratiques qui unissent en une même communauté morale, appelée Église, tous ceux qui y adhèrent. », Cf. « Définition du phénomène religieux et de la religion », Durkheim 1912, livre 1, chap. 1, p. 65
4 Cf. The Development of Religion. 1910. [Irving King, The Development of Religion. A Study in Anthropology and Social Psychology, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1910, xxiii-371 p.]
5 [Orig.] « En résumé, les deux pôles de la vie religieuse correspondent aux deux états opposés par lesquels passe toute vie sociale. Il y a entre le sacré faste et le sacré néfaste le même contraste qu’entre les états d’euphorie et de dysphorie collective. » Cf. « Les rites piaculaires et l’ambiguïté de la notion de sacré », Durkheim 1912, livre 3, chap. 5, p. 591]
6 [Orig.] « Le processus fondamental est toujours le même ; seules, les circonstances le colorent différemment. C’est donc, en définitive, l’unité et la diversité de la vie sociale qui font, à la fois, l’unité et la diversité des êtres et des choses sacrées. » Cf. « Les rites piaculaires et l’ambiguïté de la notion de sacré », Durkheim 1912, livre 3, chap.5, p. 591]Haut de page
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Pour citer cet article
King Irving, « Reviews of Books », The Philosophical Review (New York / Lancaster), 22 (4), July 1913, p. 431-434.
Irving King, « Reviews of Books », Archives de sciences sociales des religions [En ligne], La première réception des Formes (1912-1917) (S. Baciocchi, F. Théron, eds.), I, mis en ligne le 27 février 2013, consulté le 26 avril 2017. URL : http://assr.revues.org/24462Haut de page
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