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The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (French: Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse), published by French sociologist Émile Durkheim in 1912, is a book that analyzes religion as a social phenomenon. Durkheim attributes the development of religion to the emotional security attained through communal living.
According to Durkheim, early humans associated such feelings not only with one another, but as well with objects in their environment. This, Durkheim believed, led to the ascription of human sentiments and superhuman powers to these objects, in turn leading to totemism. The essence of religion, Durkheim finds, is the concept of the sacred, that being the only phenomenon which unites all religions. "A religion," writes Durkheim, "is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into a single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them." In modern societies, the individual and individual rights evolve to become the new sacred phenomena, and hence these may be called "religious" for Durkheim.
Durkheim examined religion using such examples as Pueblo Indian rain dances, the religions of aboriginal tribes in Australia, and alcoholic hallucinations.