The French sociologist Emile Durkheim identified the four major elements of religion as expressed in his definition of religion:
1. Sacred objects.
Because religions are symbolic systems, the range of objects deemed sacred can vary widely. The sacred object can be a supernatural being or force, or a ghost or spirit endowed with supernatural power. It can be a moral principle, or a particular object that symbolized deep-seated feelings. For example, a tribe may consider a forest as a supernatural being while monotheists believe in a single deity called “God”, “Yahweh”, or “Allah”. Sometimes the supernatural element may simply be a “force” which may reside in a tree, a lizard, an oddly chapped stone, a totem, a crucifix or a statue of a saint. Sacred things give the members of a religion a shared sense of the reality of the supernatural, or of what is sometimes called “the holy”.
2. Sacred beliefs.
Sacred things derive their meaning from the beliefs that sustain or underline them. A crucifix is deemed sacred to Christians because it presupposes a belief in the resurrection. The Bible is sacred to Christians because it presupposes the belief that it contains the words of God.
Sociologists regard rituals as the visible and symbolic expressions of a religion. It refers to prescribed ways of performing religious acts. Examples: group prayers, bible study, evangelizing, singing spiritual songs, or using drugs or magic, food offerings to the gods.
4. Religious community.
The religious community is composed of those unique social characters of religion. This community is composed of those who share common beliefs and practices about the sacred which bind them together within a large social whole. To Durkheim, “the idea of society is the soul of religion.” He felt community and religion were inseparable for two reasons: religion both celebrates and creates community.
Techniques of Religion
Techniques of religion refer to general acts performed according to the requirements of the beliefs. It refers to overt conduct of the believers implementing the beliefs and feelings.
Cuber gives the following techniques of religion:
- Prayer. It refers to the communication with the supernatural powers through thoughts or speech.
- Sacrifice. It expresses the desire to please the supernatural powers by gift-giving. Example: animal offering to please the gods.
- Reverence. It refers to the awe coupled with love and admiration which one offers to the supernatural powers.
- Divination. It means the control by foreknowledge of supernatural powers.
- Taboo. It refers to the negative presentation of propitiatory devices wherein the person should abstain from certain acts which are presumed inimical to the desires of the gods. It refers to “thou shall not” behaviour. Example: incest taboo (thou shall not practice incest).
- Duty. It is the opposite of taboo. It attempts to please the supernatural by positive acts. It refers to “thou shall” behavior. Example: Love thy neighbors.
- Ritual. It refers to the prescribed way of performing religious acts. Example: praying, exorcism, fasting, and making the sign of the cross.
- Ceremony. It involves a number of interconnected and related rituals performed at a given time. Examples: holy mass, marriage ceremony.
- Magic. It is an attempt to put into operation certain forces which will produce desired results.