Sacred and profane was proposed as the central characteristic of religion by Emile Durkheim in  book, ‘The Elementary Forms of Religious Life’, and said that it has a universal validity.

The sacred includes everything that is regarded as extraordinary and associated with sentiments of awe, respect, mystery, and reverence by the believers.

Sacred things may include objects, living organisms, elements of nature, places, holy days, ceremonies and other activities like pilgrimages.

The profane is everything that is not considered sacred, and includes all the mundane things and activities.

Sacred entities are kept apart isolated, and are never to be intermingled with the profane.

The characteristics of the sacred as per Durkheim




strength giving, and

does not involve knowledge but involves power.

Sacredness is not intrinsic to the object, but is a result of the collective conscience of the society.

He further examined this concept based on his study of totemism in the Arunta tribe of Central Australia.


Many anthropologists criticized that it was a product of European religious thought rather than a universally applicable criterion. Some eastern religions like Budhism disapprove any dualism, even between sacred and profane.

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