Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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Primitive system of religious and social organization. Totemism is exemplified in various North American and Australian tribes characterized as clans or bands united by kinship. The clan is distinguished by the name of an animal, plant, or, more rarely, natural phenomenon. The object is usually the subject of religious emotion. Within this system, those within the clan group are given protection but cannot marry or have sexual intercourse within the clan. …mile Durkheim argued that the totemic principle—defined as belief in a mystical relationship between a group and an animal, plant, or other object, which served as their emblem—was the basis for the distinction between the sacred and the profane.

See also …mile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud
James McClenon


…. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (New York: Free Press, 1965 [1912])

J. G. Frazer, Totemism and Exogamy (London: Macmillan, 1910)

D. P. Johnson, Sociological Theory (New York: Macmillan, 1986)

A. Lang, Myth, Ritual and Religion (London: Longmans, Green, 1899)

A. Lang, Social Origins (London: Longmans, 1903)

A. Lang, The Secret of the Totem (London: Longmans, 1905).

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