Access: New York Times
Summary: In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Émile Durkheim (1912) explains the social significance of religious life. He argues—“the universal and eternal objective cause of … religious experience … is society”; and—“that which makes a man is the totality of the intellectual property which constitutes civilization, and civilization, is the work of society.” In other words, religion is created by society, and that its beliefs and what it constitutes as "sacred" are a product of human meaning and culture. In this video, we see Hans Mattsson, a former high-ranking leader within the Mormon Church in Europe, coming to terms with the notion that his religion may have been constructed by society (Mattsson is one of a growing group of disbelievers in the Mormon church). It notes that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e. the Mormon Church) has always taught that The Book of Mormon is factually and historically true, but its claims have recently been contradicted by a variety of evidence. Evidence also shows the Church's founder (Joseph Smith) had intimate relationships with many wives, some of whom were very young, casting further doubt within its adherents. As noted in the accompanying NYT article. "The church was born in America only 183 years ago, and its founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, and his disciples left behind reams of papers that still exist, documenting their work, exposing their warts and sometimes contradicting one another." But the Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, has had over 2,000 years to work through doubts raised by insiders and outsiders. This more recent example, therefore, might serve as a metaphor to think about how all religions (as argued by Durkheim) are constructed by society. Viewers are encouraged to consider how religions are constructed by people, and following Durkheim, what social conditions are necessary for the development of any religion? (Durkheim argues the necessary conditions are the separation of sacred from profane, beliefs, rites, and a church or single overarching moral community.) In addition, the video illustrates Durkheim's concept of integration, or the degree to which collective sentiments are shared and have social relations which bind individuals to a group. Durkheim argued that too much integration or too little integration is damaging to the individual and we see this when Mattsson's integration is lost. In the accompanying article, Mattsson is quoted as saying "Everything I’d been taught, everything I’d been proud to preach about and witness about just crumbled under my feet. It was such a terrible psychological and nearly physical disturbance.” When Mormons expressed such doubts, they were often cut off from friends, family, and leadership within the church—thereby illustrating a social cause for their individual psychological predicament.
Submitted By: Paul Dean