Straight outta Durkheim: Haidt on Religious Belonging and Religious Belief
In The Righteous Mind, Jon Haidt (2012) takes aim at 'new atheist' characterisations of religious psychology, which emphasise the importance of religious belief to religious psychology. He contrasts these with a 'Durkheimian' alternative that he favours, which stresses that religion has a function - the function of binding communities together- and which accords participation in communal activities, rather than religious belief, the key role in strengthening communal bonds. I examine Durkheim's (1912) The Elementary Forms of Religious Life and argue that Durkheim had a more nuanced account of the interplay between religious belief, religious communal activity, and the strengthening of communal bonds, than Haidt recognizes. I argue that it is more convincing than Haidt's new Durkheimian alternative. I also consider the ability of the new atheist, new Durkheimian and original Durkheimian accounts of religious psychology to explain recent patterns of secularization. I argue that the original Durkheimian account is much better able to explain these patterns than either of its two more contemporary rivals.
Steve Clarke is a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Charles Sturt University and a Senior Research Associate in the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. He is the author of over sixty papers in refereed journals and edited collections, as well as two books, including The Justification of Religious Violence, Malden MA, Wiley-Blackwell, 2014. He is also a co-editor of three books. The most recent of these is Clarke, S., Powell, R. and Savulescu. J. (eds.) 2013. Religion, Intolerance and Conflict: a Scientific and Conceptual Investigation, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013. He is currently a Chief Investigator on an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant, together with Julian Savulescu and C.A.J. Coady: ‘Moral Conservatism, Human Enhancement and the “Affective Revolution” in Moral Psychology’ (2013-15). More information about 'Moral Conservatism, Human Enhancement and the 'Affective Revolution' in Moral psychology 'is available here.