According to Emile Durkheim, collective effervescence is the key element of various religious experiences. This concept is used to describe the feeling of exaltation that a person may have at the time when he/she participates in religious rituals as a member of the community. Under such circumstance, an individual believes that he/she has reached the highest level of morality and intellectuality (Durkheim 15).
More importantly, people may think that they are led by a higher power that helps them become new and better human beings. In Durkheim’s opinion, this feeling is typical of any religion, regardless of its age, complexity, cultural background, and so forth. This scholar attaches much importance to this feeling because religion strengthens the solidarity of the community. It helps a person feel a sense of belonging to a group. Yet, an individual can develop bonds for the community, if he/she feels collective effervescence, at least occasionally. So, Durkheim attaches much importance to this notion, because he examines religions from a sociological perspective.
One should note that people can experience collective effervescence when they participate in an activity that they consider sacred. In this context, the word sacred is used to refer to those things that inspire awe, fear or admiration; they transcend the boundaries of everyday life. Durkheim defines religion as the system of practices and beliefs that are related to sacred things (44). This is why collective effervescence is more typical of religious experiences.
Additionally, people who feel collective effervescence can do something that they are not likely to do on a daily basis. For instance, they can undergo severe hardships or even put their lives at risk. This exaltation makes people believe that they can achieve some higher ideal which is included in the system of religious beliefs. Nevertheless, one should point out that collective effervescence is not related exclusively to religion. Such behaviour can be observed among people who experience very strong and shared emotions such as joy or indignation. Very often, they believe that they can reach some important objects that can contribute to the greater good of the community. This goal can be sacred to them, but these people may not describe themselves as religious individuals.
To some degree, collective effervescence has been described by other scholars whose works have been studied during the course. For instance, one can mention Carol Delaney. This scholar focuses on the life of Turkish peasants who go on annual pilgrimage (Delaney 513). Similar behaviour has been described by Abdellah Hammoudi, who describes the experiences of people to travel to Mecca. Collective effervescence can manifest itself at the time when they try to reach the Kaaba (Hammoudi 148).
Additionally, one can see an example of collective effervescence in the religious rites of Aboriginal Australians. To a great extent, these examples confirm the idea that collective effervescence plays a vital role in any religion. Nevertheless, this argument requires further empirical examination because one should rely on quantitative research methods such as surveys to determine if people do feel something that can be compared to collective effervescence.
Experience of Muslim pilgrimage
In his works, Victor Turner introduces such a notion as liminality, which is used to describe the state of disorientation which occurs during various rites of passage. People, who experience liminality, no longer occupy their previous status in the community; however, they have not attained the new status for which they will be eligible after the ritual. Furthermore, Turner focuses on such a notion as a social structure which can be described as the relations between instructors and neophytes (Turner 109). In turn, anti-structure is used to describe the state of liberation during which people reach the peak of their cognition, morality, creativity, or volition. In other words, the term anti-structure does not mean that the roles of neophytes and instructors are reversed. This is one of the details that should be taken into account.
Abdellah Hammoudi and Carol Delaney also describe people who are in the state of liminality. In particular, the authors depict Muslims who make a pilgrimage or the Hajj. These people strive to achieve higher spiritual ideas by reaching Mecca and touching the Black Stone of the Kaaba (Delaney 515). It is the sacred place for Muslims, and this pilgrimage is the expression of their devotion to Islam. They must perform the Hajj at least once during their lifetime. However, prior to reaching this destination, these people are in the state of liminality. They want to end this liminality by reaching the Kaaba (Hammoudi 148). To a great extent, these authors confirm the arguments made by Victor Turner because they describe the life of people who strive to reach certain spiritual heights. This is one of the aspects that can be singled out.
However, it is important to mention that some elements are not clearly present. In particular, Victor Turner places emphasis on the social structure or the subordinate relations between neophytes and instructors. Muslims, who go on pilgrimage, do not perceive themselves in this way. These subordinate relations are not typical of the Hajj. Admittedly, there are people who perform Hajj more than once. However, they do not believe that they occupy a higher status in the community of Muslims. One should keep in mind that the Hajj is a personal duty, but it does not lead to the social transition of a person. This is one of the reasons why Turner’s arguments are not always applicable to these readings.
Additionally, one can also argue that these authors describe the state of anti-structure. In particular, one can speak about people who pray and plead for God’s forgiveness (Hammoudi, 148). To some degree, they believe that they interact with the Supreme Being. At this point, they forget about various inequalities affecting their lives. Overall, these readings show that the notions of structure and anti-structure are not necessarily tied together. However, it is important to mention that pilgrimage is not a conventional rite of passage because it does not signify a specific transition or transformation of a person’s status. Similarly, pilgrimage is not determined by seasonal or periodic changes that occur regularly.
Delaney, Carol. “The Hajj: The Sacred and the Secular.” American Ethnologist 17.3 (1990): 513-530. Print.
Durkheim, Emile. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, New York: Free Press, 1970. Print.
Hammoudi, Abdellah. A Season in Mecca. New York: Polity, 2005. Print.
Turner, Victor. Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage, New York, NY: American Ethnological Society, 1964. Print.