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Durkheim: Examination of some of his main theories

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  1. Introduction
  2. Review
  3. Conclusion

Without a doubt, one of the most important figures in the field of sociology is Emile Durkheim. His studies on a number of different social aspects have influenced numerous other recent socio-political commentators. Forefather and leading figure of the functionalist approach, Durkheim was the first sociologist that developed a distinction between the sacred, generated by the collectivity and the profane or private (Marshall, 1994). This report will examine the legacy of Durkheim, arguing that he was one of the most important figures in social science for the reasons: his studies on religion, his functionalist approach on studying rituals and collective activities like sport, and his studies on the notion of social capital, social order and social solidarity.

The functionalist approach to social theory is based on the idea that sociologists should provide an impartial objective, using scientific methods to examine social events and institutions. Durkheim was the major figure of the functionalist approach, emphasizing that society is composed by a number of interrelated parts. In this respect, Durkheim sees the common values shared by the members of a human community as the elements that held society together. Social institutions like religion create social capital, in Durkheim's views, as they reinforce social solidarity and help to spread the shared social values that hold society together (Marshall, 1994). The discussions about religion, social capital, and civil society are closely related to Durkheim's thesis about rituals and social cohesion. The role played by religion in relation to what some experts referred as civil society has become a mainstream issue in different sociological debates during recent years.

[...] He affirmed that all kinds of religions believe in a particular object or entity. In Durkheim's opinion, the beliefs of members of a religion in the power of these entities or objects are not only religious beliefs because they represent the society of which the religious person is member, and the influence of this society on its members (Craib, 1997). As argued by Lukes (1973), Durkheim (1912 / 1915) gave three explanations of religion: the functional, the interpretive, and the causal. [...]

[...] (1973) 'Emile Durkheim, his Life and Work: a Historical and Critical Study'. London: Allen Lane. Marshall, G. (ed.), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Sociology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994). Offe, C. and S. Fuchs (2002) ?A Decline of Social Capital?: The German Case', in Putnam, R. D. (ed.) (2002) ?Democracies in Flux: The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society?. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Inc. Putnam, R. D. (2001) ?Bowling Alone: The Collapse and the Revival of American Community?. New York : Touchstone (published by Simon & Schuster Inc.). [...]

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