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Religious Research Association, Inc.

Emile Durkheim and the Civil Religion Concept


Author(s): Ruth A. Wallace
Source: Review of Religious Research, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Spring, 1977), pp. 287-290
Published by: Religious Research Association, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3510218
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RESEARCH AND COMMENTARY 287
ments on an earlier version of this paper. However, sion and the negative reactions was not explicitly
the author alone is responsiblefor any inadequacies. sought. Therefore,the subjectsmay have had sufficient
1. This name was not used by any studentbut has timefortheirbeliefsto grow strong.
been adopted by the author for convenience in this
report. The firststudent chosen and interviewedhad 3. Some subjects also reported improved relation-
made me aware of the existence of Crusade House ships with parents following conversion.
when he visited my officeduring proselytizingactivi-
ties. Interviewswere then conductedwith seven addi- Glock, Charles and Rodney Stark
tional residentswho were available when I visited the 1965 Religion and Society in Tension. Chicago, Ill.:
House for this research purpose, these ending with Rand McNally.
the close of the Fall term. The single individualwho Gordon, Albert
refusedto be interviewedwas a residentwhose sched- 1967 The Nature of Conversion. Boston, Mass.:
Beacon.
ule did not allow time to complete the interviewon
the day he was present. The Crusade staff member Lofland,John
was chosen to maximize informationabout the House 1966 Doomsday Cult. Englewood Cliffs,N.J.: Pren-
and to provide variation in the length of time since tice-Hall.
the beginningof the conversionexperience. Seggar,Johnand Phillip Kunz
2. Two subjects who were asked about the reac- 1972 "Conversion: evaluation of a step-likeprocess
tions of friendsto their conversionmentionednegative for problem-solving."Review of Religious Re-
reactions.However, the elapsed time between conver- search 13 (Spring, 1972): 178-184.

EMILE DURKHEIMAND THE CIVIL RELIGIONCONCEPT

RuthA. Wallace
GeorgeWashington
University

Abstract
This articlearguesthatDurkheim'semphasison civil religion,especiallyon an inter-
nationallevel,and his emphasison the importanceof the public schools in the imple-
mentationof civil religionare importantthemesin Durkheim'swork whichhave not
been givenadequate due. Some largelyneglectedDurkheimiansourceson thesethemes
are presentedand discussed.

Althoughhe never used the term "civil citationin 1973 and Bellah's citationin his
religion,"Durkheim'swritingsreveal that he introduction in 1973 (p. 229, fn. 111) are
saw patriotismas the civilreligionof modern the only references to it whichI have found
society. The purposesof this paper are to in my research on Durkheim's work on
indicatehis emphasison thecivilreligioncon- education. As one of the last five or six
cept and to reveal some little-knownwritings pieces of writingpublishedbeforehis death,
of Durkheimwhich provide importantevi- I thinkit deservesto be resurrected; and it
dence concerninghis espousal of the civil is crucialto thepresentdiscussion.
religion. Durkheim'sbelief in national solidarity
through secular education comes through
loud and clear in "The School of Tomorrow"
DURKHEIM AND CIVIL RELIGION whenhe says(1919:188):

A heretofore neglectedDurkheimian source It is an indisputablefact that since the begin-


on thisconceptis foundin an articleentitled ning of the war France has gained for herself
an incontestablemoral position snithe eyes of the
"The School of Tomorrow,"in FrenchEdu- world. All peoples, even Germanyherself render
homage to the virtuesshe has shown to the hero-
cationalIdeals of Today,editedby Ferdinand ism of her troops, to the grave and calm endur-
ance with which the countryhas borne the fright-
Buisson and Frederic E. Farrington.Even ful calamities of a war unparalleled in history.
in the ratherthoroughbibliography of Durk- What does this mean if not that our educational
methodshave produced the best effectthat could
heim'spublicationsin the Lukes' work,there be expected of them; that our public school has
made men of the children confided to it? The
is no referenceto the above article. My own public school has naturallyhad the largest share

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288 REVIEW OF RELIGIOUS RESEARCH
in this result, since its pupils representthe ma-
We can, therefore,
the issue of nationalismversusinternational-
jorityof theschoolpopulation.
withperfectcertainty concludethat it has per- ism,Durkheimplaces a priority on thelatter;
formedits taskwell. and he insiststhat nationalismshould be a
It is no wonder,then,thatBellah (1973b: stepping-stone to internationalism.
x) labels Durkheimas a "highpriestand the- Earlierin his careerDurkheimhad stressed
ologianof the civil religionof the ThirdRe- the importanceof secondarygroupsfor the
public" because Durkheim'snationalismwas integration of the individualinto the larger
more than evident in his writings,in his society. I would suggest that Durkheim's
teaching,and in his own patrioticactivities emphasison patriotism was akin to a stress
duringWorld War I. What Bellah adds to on anotherformof intermediate group.What
Durkheim's title is extremelyinteresting,Durkheimwas proposingwas that the na-
though it may seem inconsistentwith the tion as intermediate group should integrate
wordsjust quoted fromDurkheim.He says its membersinto the larger societyof the
that Durkheim is also a "prophetcalling universeand thatnationalinterests could not
not onlymodernFrance but modernWestern be self-serving. My contentionis that Durk-
societygenerallyto mendits way in the face heim became all the more convincedof the
of a greatsocial and moralcrisis."How Durk- need to reconcile national patriotismwith
heim can maintainthe titles of priest for world patriotismas he witnessedthe conse-
France and prophetfor Westernsocietyis quences of Germany'snationalism. I can
one of themainconcernsof thispaper. findproof of this in anotherexcerptfrom
GermanyAbove All which was written,as
Durkheimexplains,on the veryday the news
NATIONAL CIVIL RELIGION: of the Lusitania outragewas received. He
A STEPPING-STONE says (1915a:45):
As we have seen, Durkheimwas a strong ern There is no State so powerfulthat it can gov-
eternallyagainst the will of its subjects and
supporterof French nationalism. On the force them, by purely external coercion, to sub-
mit to its will. There is no State so great that it
otherhand, Germany'sbrand of nationalism is not mergedin the vaster systemformedby the
repelledhim; this is not surprising, for it is agglomerationof other states, that does not, in
other words, formpart of the great human com-
a counterpartof his own endorsementof munity,and owe respectto this. There is a univer-
conscience and a universalopinion, and it is
Frenchnationalism.In a pamphlethe wrote sal no more possible to escape the empire of these
duringWorldWar I, entitledGermanyAbove than to escape the empire of physical laws; for
they are forces which react against those who
All, Durkheim not only criticizedGermany's transgressthem; a state cannot subsist when all
behaviorduringthewar buthe also expressed humanityis arrayed against it.
his horrorat the Germancontemptof inter-
national law. He clearly labels Germany's INTERNATIONAL CIVIL RELIGION:
nationalismas immoralpreciselybecause he A MAJOR EMPHASIS
saw it as a returnto a sortof tribalor pagan
moralitywhich assumed that (1915a:3, 23- As earlyas 1898,in an articleentitled"In-
24) "humanitywas confinedto the tribe." dividualismand the Intellectuals"(Bellah,
Here Durkheimarguesthat civilizednations 1973:43-57), Durkheimstatedhis preference
must go beyondthe tribalor nationallevel; for a universalcivil religion.He called it a
and theymusthave as a "primaryobjectthe "cult of man" or the "religionof humanity,"
realizationof humanity" whichplaces human and he saw it replacingotherreligions.He
interestsovernationalinterests. picturedthis cult as addressingitself"to the
To be consistentwith his own patriotic human person (la personnehumaine) wher-
efforts,DurkheimmustrejectGermany'sna- ever it is to be found,and in whateverform
tionalism;but what is of interesthere is the it is embodied."This he sees as an extended
reason Durkheim gives for his rejection. form of individualism,springingnot from
What he arguesis not thatall nationalismis egoism,but from"sympathyfor all that is
immoralbut thatthe typeof nationalismhe human."
sees in Germany's National Socialism is Durkheim'sanxietyabout the consequen-
regressive, chieflybecause it closes the door ces of excessiveegoismhad been articulated
to internationalism. Ratherthanside-stepping in Suicide. In his search for a remedy for the

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RESEARCH AND COMMENTARY 289

social pathologyassociated with a lack of science and throughDurkheim'sinfluence,


he saw the "religionof
societal integration, "teachers taught children to respect the
humanity"as an integrativeforce. Why is French nation,to justifyclass collaboration,
this universalreligion so necessaryin the to accept everything,to join in the cult of
modernworld? Durkheimanswersthus (Bel- theflagand bourgeoisDemocracy."
lah, 1973: 51-52): But Durkheimwould not settlefor a goal
that was solely nationalistic.He was not
As a result of a more developed division of
labor, each mind finds itself oriented to a dif- blind to the responsibilitiesof the public
ferentpoint on the horizon, reflectinga different school systemvis-a-visthe restof the world;
aspect of the world,and consequently the contents
of consciousness(conscience) differsfromone per- and he indicatedthis in his writingon the
son to another. Thus, we make our way, little by
little, toward a state, nearly achieved as of now, school of the future,wherehe spoke of the
where the membersof a single social group will
have nothingin commonamong themselvesexcept schooland universallaw (1919:191-192):
their humanity,except the constitutiveattributes
of the human person (personnehumaine) in gen- The school of tomorrow must abandon this
eral. This idea of the human person, dif- grave error. It is necessaryto have respect for
ferent nuances according to the diversity of na-
given, legitimate authority,that is to say, for moral
tional temperaments,is thereforethe only idea authority,to inculcate in the child the religion
which would be retained. of law, and to teach him the joy of acting in
concert with others according to an impersonal,
For Durkheim,the cult of humanitywas universallaw. It is necessarythat the school dis-
cipline appear to the childrenas a just and sacred
the only means of achievingsolidarityin the thing,the basis of theirhappinessand moralhealth.
Thus as men they will accept spontaneouslyand
modernworld. In an address entitled"Pa- with open eyes the social disciplinewhich cannot
triotismand Cosmopolitanism" whichhe de- be undermined without endangering the whole
social fabric.
liveredin 1908, Durkheimsaid thatthe ma-
jor emphasisshould be on cosmopolitanism Durkheimindicated,then,that the vehicle
or universalism, thus pointingthe way to an for the transmission of the values of a uni-
international civil religion. He said (Lukes, versal civil religion was the public school.
1972:350): This would be a formidabletask for public
school teachers;but it was clearlythe higher
Doubtless we have towards this countryin its and it is one which Durkheimhimself
presentform, and of which we in fact form part, task,
obligationsthat we do not have the right to cast confronted as a teacher.In one lecturewhich
off. But beyond this country,there is another in
the process of formation,envelopingour national he deliveredin his course on moral educa-
country;that of Europe, or humanity. tion to a class made up of futuresecondary
The prophethas spoken. In the next sec- teachers,Durkheimarguedfor the "possibil-
tion we will discuss the means to the goal ity of a non-exclusivepatriotismcommitted
set outbyDurkheim. to internationalistideals" (Lukes, 1972:118).

NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION


RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE SCHOOL
A concernfor social solidaritywas a life-
On the national level, Durkheimclearly long concernfor Durkheim. We have fol-
outlinedthe chief task of the public school lowed one ramification of that themein his
system(1919:89): writingsconcerning the religionof patriotism
whichhe envisionedas being supersededby
The end is not difficultto discover: It is the
moral greatnessof France. [sic.] Our whole teach- an internationalreligionof humanity.Durk-
ing should develop around the idea: to awaken heim'sprioritieswere placed squarelyon the
the correspondingfeeling,implant it in all hearts,
and cultivateit as far as possible. Such should be higherideal, a universalconscienceto sup-
the chief task of the schooli
plant a nationalconscience;and he thought
For Durkheim,the futureof his country everynation should strivetowardthis ideal.
dependedon the degreeto whichthe public We have seen thathe envisionedthe public
schools could succeed in instillinga sense school as the vehiclefor the transmission of
of the "moral greatnessof France" in the, the values of the stepping-stone, nationalism,
futuregenerations.His esteemfor an almost and of the finalgoal, internationalism. I be-
unquestioningpatriotismwas not without lieve that one reason why the discussionof
critics. The Marxist writer Paul Nizan national values was predominantin Durk-
(Lukes, 1972:357) said that,in the name of helm'swritings is thathis untimelydeath oc-

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290 REVIEW OF RELIGIOUS RESEARCH
curred so soon afterthe end of a war in could have expectedDurkheimto have elab-
which he himselfhad been so deeply in- oratedon what he saw as the ultimategoal,
volved. Had he lived well beyond 1918, we an international
civilreligion.

NOTE AND REFERENCES


Revised version of a paper presentedat the annual 1915b Who Wanted War? The Origin of the War
meeting of the Society for the ScientificStudy *of according to Diplomatic Documents. Paris,
Religion, Plenary Session I, October 24-26, 1975, France: ArmandColin.
Plankinton House, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I wish to 1919 "The 'School of Tomorrow." Pp. 188-192 in
thank WhitneyPope and Edward C. Lehman, Jr., for Ferdinand Buisson and Frederic E. Earrington
their encouragement and useful criticisms on the (eds.), French Educational Ideals of Today.
earlierdraft. New York, N.Y.: World. Originallypublished
in 1915 in Manuel general de l'instruction
Bellah, Robert N. primaire15 (December).
1967 "Civil religion in America." Daedulus 96 Giddens, Anthony(ed.)
. (Winter): 1-21. 1972 Emile Durkheim: Selected Writings.London,
1970 "Christianityand symbolicrealism." Journal Eng.: CambridgeUniversityPress.
for 'the ScientificStudy of Religion 9:89-96.
1971 "Evil and the American Ethos." Pp. 177-191 LaCapra, Dominick
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Sanctions for Evil. Boston, Mass.: Beacon. Ithaca, N.Y.: CornellUniversity
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glican Theological Review, SupplementarySe- 1972 Emile Durkheim: His Life and Work. New
ries No. 1 (July): 8-20. York, N.Y.: Harper and Row.
1973b Emile 'Durkheim on Morality and Society. Richey, Russell E. and Donald G. Jones (eds,)
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Wallace, Ruth A.
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DATA AT THE ROPER PUBLIC OPINION RESEARCHCENTERFOR.


RESEARCHERSIN THE SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION'

Paul R. Voss
Department of RuralSociology
of Wisconsin
University at Madison

In a 1973 issue of the Journalfor the attitudesand behavioravailable to research-


ScientificStudyof Religion,JacksonCarroll ers throughthe servicesof the Roper Public
and David Roozen called attentionto the Opinion Research Center.' The source for
wealth of surveydata concerningreligious the Carrolland Roozen paperwas a question

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