In 1912 the pioneering French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) published The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, which presented his findings (not without controversy) on primitive clan-based religious culture. Durkheim sought to identify the nature of religion by studying it in what he took to be its pristine form. In the course of his work, he realized that modern secular societies had many important similarities to the societies he was observing. For Durkheim, religion satisfied a need for social solidarity and identification that would also require satisfaction in a secular scientific epoch. His observations are pertinent to the proposition that religion and purportedly secular ideologies like nationalism, rather than being opposites, are actually two members of the same family. One implication of this insight is that the West’s proud determination to separate church and state has overlooked the dangers of joining ostensibly nonreligious worldviews to the state.
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