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The preceding chapters highlight a number of aspects of religion which depart from, fundamentally modify and recontextualize the received wisdom about religion, especially as it has been understood through the prism of classical sociology. Each of the distinct sources of the classical perspective outlines an understanding of religion that – while contrasting with other understandings – has been taken with the others to represent the various facets of religion in the modern world. And yet none of these facets of religion is today found in forms projected by the sociological luminaries.
Émile Durkheim famously characterized religion in terms of a distinction he believed inherent in all religions, namely that between the sacred and the profane. The sacred, Durkheim held, was a symbolic form of the enduring and defining values of the society itself in which the religion in question resides. But the coherence of a more or less societally wide normative consensus that Durkheim assumes in making this claim is in fact not to be found in modern societies. This is largely because the populations of modern societies are not unitary in terms of their origins and historical memory, either through geographic mobility that accompanies modern occupational careers or through international migration, which has been a major demographic factor throughout the twentieth century and promises to continue in the present. Associated with these trends, the idea of the sacred – which requires a traditional understanding of received meaning supported by ritual practices – has given way if not to a scientific to at least a mundane utilitarian and therefore market set of values.