This follows up on the previous entries in this series here and here. Emile Durkheim is one of the most important founders of modern sociology. He is also one of the most important figures in the study of religion. Like Tylor, Frazer, and Freud, his theory of religion is also reductionist. It seeks to explain religion by pointing to something other than religion itself.
For Durkheim, the divine, or the sacred, is in the image of the society or community. For example, the salute to the flag shows reverence to the “sacred” object, but really demonstrates commitment to the United States. In religion, god is the personified view of the clan, and the rituals and worship of the god are aimed at expressing devotion and reinforcing the community itself. Even the notion of the soul and individual immortality are a way of saying that that the clan lives on. The soul is a representation of the society within the individual. The individual is responsible to not put the desires of the flesh above those of the society. This functionalist explanation of religion sees it as performing the task of creating solidarity in the community. Different from the previous thinkers, Durkheim’s view is not anti-religious, for he sees it as both healthy and inevitable in any society.
Do Durkheim’s ideas find evidence in the LDS temple rituals? These rituals divinize the participants, as well as providing services to members of the clan who have passed on. Further, do the strong sense of LDS identity and the desire to construct a Zion society reflect an ultimate interest in the society itself? We seem very concerned with group salvation. Our families are sealed together in order to be saved together. In eschatological times were are supposed to gather together again for protection from the outside. Is LDS belief and practice really about building and preserving a clan, albeit an ultimately universal one which will encompass all of humanity?