A Comparison of Tillich’s View of religion from Durkheim’s Position


The origin and concept of religion always draw different reactions from various scholars. In this paper, comparison is made in regards to Emile Durkheim and Paul Tillich concepts of religion.

Durkheim’s View of Religion

As an interested party in matters of theology, Durkheim saw religion as a source of solidarity and comradeship. As such, he focused on trying to identify the common origin and functionality of religion. He also sought to determine the existing links between religions as exhibited by various cultures with the aim of the identification of a common denominator. From his view, the concept of faith has become tough given the break in ties between religion and the traditional society.

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In his work “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life,” he portrays a theory of religion whereby he compares the cultural and social lives of modern and aboriginal societies. From his view, religion is a social phenomenon. His core thesis is that religion is a thing which is eminently social. Furthermore, he observes that the correct assessment and understanding of religion can be attained by viewing the various elements of society. By understanding the concept of society, we understand divinity. Therefore, divinity and society are a similar notion (Durkheim 44).

Tillich’s View of Religion

Unlike other religious theology scholars, Tillich saw Christianity and religion from a different angle after observing the situations facing humans in the twentieth century. He takes the position of an apologetic Christian and considers the secular culture in describing Christianity. In his work “The Dynamics of Faith,” he focuses on the elements of; faith and shows how it has become trivialized.” The purpose of the book is essential in showing people “the concealed power of faith within themselves and of the immeasurable significance of that to which faith is associated” (Tillich 21). In his work, he strives to be a religious philosopher as well as a theologian in Christianity. Unlike religious sociologists, he views religion as a form of culture. Therefore, an individual’s spiritual life is an embrace of the society or culture. To him, faith is more than emotions and rationality.

In his work, he focuses on three distortions of faith. To him, the view that faith refers to actions based on little knowledge is a pervasive distortion. Such a belief can be sociologically expressed as a cognitive belief rather than faith. Building on the first distortion, he disagrees the concept that faith must be complemented or supplemented by subjection of an individual’s will. He terms this concept as a voluntaristic distortion, and for him, faith can be created by the absence of a command to either believe or having the will to believe (Tillich 44). In the book, he also points out on faith’s emotionalistic distortion whereby faith is subjected to feelings. His view is that faith should not be considered based on the will or intellect alone since it causes a misunderstanding. Therefore, given that faith is the building block of religion, once the concept of faith is not understood, then, no truths as given by religion can be accepted.


As seen, both of the two religious scholars water down the concept of religion. For Durkheim, religion is a form of culture, and it is through this culture that a religious life can crop up since spiritual developments aim at creating emotional security. Tillich on the other hand waters down the entire perception of religion as founded by the ideology of faith. To him, God is an idol, a creation of man. Therefore, they both portray religion as a creation of man and for their benefit..


Works Cited

Durkheim, Emile: The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Free Press, 1995

Tillich, Paul. Dynamics of Faith. HarperOne, 2009