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Collective effervescence (CE) is a perceived energy formed by a gathering of people as might be experienced at a sporting event, a carnival, a rave, or a riot. This perception can cause people to act differently than in their everyday life.

CE in religion

Collective effervescence is the basis for Émile Durkheim's theory of religion as laid out in his 1912 volume Elementary Forms of Religious Life. This book is largely based on studies of Australian aborigines. Durkheim was concerned primarily with how societies could maintain their integrity and coherence in the modern era.

Durkheim argues that the universal religious dichotomy of profane and sacred results from the lives of these tribe members: most of their life is spent performing menial tasks such as hunting and gathering. These tasks are profane. The rare occasions on which the entire tribe gathers together becomes sacred, and the high energy level associated with these events gets directed onto physical objects or people which then become sacred. The force is thus associated with the totem which is the symbol of the clan, mentioned by Durkheim in his study of "elementary forms" of religion in Aboriginal societies. Because it provides the tribes name, the symbol is present during the gathering of the clan. Its presence during these scenes, the totem comes to represent both the scene and the strong emotionals felt, thus becoming a collective representation of the group. [1]

For Durkheim, religion is a fundamentally social phenomenon. The beliefs and practices of the sacred are a method of social organization. This explanation is detailed in Elementary Forms "Book 2/The Elementary Beliefs", chapter 7, "Origins of These Beliefs: Origin of the Idea of the Totemic Principle or Mana". According to Durkheim:

god and society are one of the same…the god of the clan…can be none other than the clan itself, but the clan transfigured and imagined in the physical form of a plant or animal that serves as a totem.[2]

The group members experience a feeling of a loss of individuality and unity with the gods and according to Durkheim, thus with the group.[3]

See also



  • Durkheim, Émile. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, (1912, English translation by Joseph Swain: 1915) The Free Press, 1965: ISBN 0-02-908010-X; HarperCollins, 1976: ISBN 0-04-200030-0; new translation by Karen E. Fields, Free Press 1995: ISBN 0-02-907937-3
  • Griswold, Wendy, Cultures and Societies in a Changing World, Pine Forge Press, 2008; 51-56.
  • Kunin, Seth D. "Religion; the modern theories", University of Edinburgh, 2003: ISBN 0748615229


  1. Griswold, Wendy, Cultures and Societies in a Changing World, Pine Forge Press, 2008; 51-56.
  2. Durkheim 1995, p. 208 (1965, p. 236).
  3. Kunin, pp. 20-21.
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