SACRED AND THE PROFANE
Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) claimed that all religions divide objects or phenomena into the sacred and the profane.
The sacred objects are those which are extraordinary and are treated as if set apart from the routine course of events in daily life.
The profane are those objects or phenomena seen as ordinary and constituting the reality of everyday living.
Durkheim believed that the celebration of religious beliefs and sacred ritual united the community and integrated individuals and that it enhanced the sharing of collective sentiments and solidarity in profane areas of social life.
The secularization and rationalization of Western societies has reduced the realm of the sacred.
The profane may simply mean not sacred, but it also has a meaning of being irreligious, and a misuse or abuse of the sacred, which might be termed the anti-sacred. That these are different binaries can be shown logically.
If, like Durkheim, you define the sacred as that which is set apart, then the profane defined as non-sacred, that is, as the every-day or ordinary, is a necessary condition for the concept. It is impossible to imagine a world in which some things are set apart, but nothing is ordinary.
However, the profane as anti-sacred, that is, as acts against the sacred, is not a necessary condition for the concept of the sacred. While the sacred as set apart and preserved by taboos requires rules to establish the sacred as a social fact, it does not require anyone to break those rules. It is possible to imagine a world in which there are things that are sacred, but that no-one ever breaks the rules.
However, it is not necessary that we do define the sacred as that which is set apart. - Excerpt: The sacred-profane distinction is not universal - Stretching the sacred - Elizabeth Burns Coleman, Kevin White - epress.anu.edu.au/nts/mobile_devices/ch06.html
As W. S. F. Pickering points out,
from its earliest reception the duality of the sacred and profane in Elementary Forms has
been seriously questioned. The basis of Durkheims distinction between the sacred and
profane is that religious thought reflects social organisation. Durkheim asserts that
since no individual can be a member of two moieties that it is this radical separation
that is reflected in the religious thought and the basis of the distinction between the
sacred and the profane. Stanners fieldwork shows that in fact members of different
moieties do intermingle and that the moieties are not radically distinct. Groups can and
do intermix while still preserving their identities and hence neither their social
organisation, nor their conceptual thinking, reflects the dualism that Durkheim ascribes
to them. What these objections show is that the distinction between sacred and profane
that Durkheim develops does not explain all the features of societies that recognise
something like a realm of the sacred, and that the concept of the sacred does not
necessarily have the features that Durkheim suggests.