Applying Karl Mannheim's Sociologist Approach to the Theories of Emile Durkheim and William James

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We can apply Karl Mannheim’s sociologist approach to knowledge to the theories of two scholars of religion, Émile Durkheim and William James. “The ideas expressed by the subject are thus regarded as functions of his existence. This means that opinion, statements, propositions, and systems of ideas are not taken at their face value but are interpreted in the light of the life-situation of the one who expresses them” (Mannheim 50). Mannheim essentially believes that the acquisition of knowledge is based on the perspective of the observer. More obviously, their respective views stem from their fields of expertise; Durkheim, a sociologist, supports social constructionism as a rudimentary tool to understanding religion, while William James takes a psychological approach. Adhering to Mannheim, one theory is not necessarily more right than the other rather, they are simply perspectives based on relative positions. But fields of vision often overlap, especially with a common goal of defining religion. Durkheim’s and James’ theories are similar in their approach, both using experience as the primary basis of study and the sacred and profane spaces as but are inherently different in their objectives. Durkheim interprets religion through the communal aspects of religion, when James looks at the particular individuals’ experience and interpretations of religion. Durkheim and James both acknowledge the dichotomy of sacred and profane; Durkheim more blatantly does so in the first part of his definition of religion, “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and surrounded by prohibitions” (Durkheim 46). Alternatively, James’ relation to the sacred and profane requires ... ... middle of paper ... ...structionist, neglects to acknowledge salvation as a component. Almost as an afterthought within the conclusion, Durkheim states “The first article of all faith is the belief in salvation by faith” (Durkheim 311). James on the other hand, holds salvation in a higher regard, proving it to be one of the cornerstones of his definition when he explores individual religious testimonials of transformation. In retrospect, although there are certainly similarities between the two theories, Durkheim and James, have similarities in that they both operate on the acceptance of the existence of sacred and profane spaces, as well as utilizing experience as a tool to study religion, but they also have their differences in their methods. Durkheim studies a communal past, while James can study the individual’s present role in religion and religion’s present role in the individual.

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