'Ideology', 'meaning', and 'myth': Marx, Weber, and Durkheim on the three dimensions of sacred symbolism and their uses in society

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Gunter Remmling


Symbolism, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Religion

Subject Categories

Religion | Sociology


The works of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim in the area of religion are put in a new light as well as the relationship between these respective theories. It is argued that each of the classical writers emphasizes a different type of sacred beliefs. Marx focuses primarily on the symbolism that depicts the relations between hierarchical groups that make up the societal realm. This particular dimension of sacred symbolism that 'frames' the design of macro society is referred to here as 'ideology'. Weber, in turn, stresses in his analyses the dimension of 'meaning' in religion: beliefs that address primarily the problems of individual existence, such as the promises of salvation, for example. These beliefs offer an explanation as to what is the purpose of life and thus they envelop the individual self in the web of sacred meaning. And Durkheim comes in the course of his career to focus on beliefs that depict the encounter between the individual self and his or her reference group in society. These beliefs that 'frame' the relationship between the self and society are referred to here as the dimension of 'myth' in religion.

The central hypothesis of this work is that these insights into the workings of religion by the three seminal sociologists can be brought together under one conceptual umbrella. A three-dimensional model of religion in the social setting is proposed that incorporates the dimensions of 'ideology', 'meaning', and 'myth'. According to this hypothesis, the traditional religious systems studied by Marx, Weber, and Durkheim, such as medieval Christianity, the ascetic Protestantism, and totemism, all encompass the beliefs that 'frame' the self, the macro society, as well as the relationship between the self and the reference group. The last chapter tests this claim with respect to totemism, the doctrine the Saint Augustine, and the Puritan system of William Perkins.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.