Dharma, the Sacred, and Durkheim’s Definition of Religion

Ivan Strenski


I shall argue that Durkheim does not avoid the pitfalls of ethnocentrism in attempting a cross-cultural theory of religion. Durkheim’s theory of religion does not avoid using a culturally specific, and/or derived, view of religion upon religious data. But, in a way, it doesn’t really matter, because we all do the same thing inevitably anyway. Indeed, I shall also argue that his theory of religion remains as eth- nocentric as commonplace Western theistic theories of religion that insist we conceive religion as "belief in God." The difference is that Durkheim’s conceptual thought about religion is ethnocentric in a most unexpected way. It is thus not ethnocentric in being either Jewish, or some other "Western" (i.e., Christian) theory, in disguise. It is, instead, Indian—a mélange of Hindu and Buddhist conceptions. Despite this, I am prepared to argue in future that his theory of religion marks progress in forming a useful cross-cultural category for comprehending religion.


Durkheim; India; Religion

Full Text:


DOI: https://doi.org/10.11157/rsrr1-2-471