General Features of Sacred and Secular Societies

  • Howard Becker


The networks of sociation1 which we call societies are really given form by means of the ceaseless shuttling to and fro of social actions2. Families are woven of familial behavior, states of political behavior, and so on. There are no societies that exist over and above their constituent members, like those “brooding omnipresences in the sky” to which J. Holmes so bitingly referred. Convenience alone prescribes the use of “society” as a noun3.


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  1. 1.
    “Sociative,” “sociation,” and like terms derive from (as)sociation and (dis)sociation; namely, from the most general aspects of social interaction. When we say that human beings sociate, we merely say that they interact with their fellows. They may fight or frolic, compete or cooperate — sociation covers everything. See Wiese-Becker, Systematic Sociology (New York: Wiley, 1932), pp. 10, 14, 1948; George A. Lundberg, Foundations of Sociology (New York: Macmillan, 1939), pp. 260–263. 284.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    In other words, societies are not organisms, as the Nazis and Fascists maintain. See Becker and Barnes, Social Thought from Lore to Science (Washington, D. C.: Harren Press 1952), pp. 677–91.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Wiese-Becker, op. cit., pp. 78–93.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See the article by Howard Becker and Robert E. Myers, “The Sacred and the Secular Aspects of Human Sociation”, Sociometry, 5, No. 3 (1942), for a fuller discussion of the backgrounds of these and related terms. The most recent formulation is to be found in Howard Becker: Through Values to Social Interpretation (Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press 1951).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    An excellent discussion of habit as we use the term here is to be found in John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct (New York: Holt, 1922), pp. 15–42 et passim.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Kinglsey Davis and W. Lloyd Warner “Structural Analysis of Kinship”, American Anthropologist, 39, No. 2 (April—June 1937), pp. 291–313. See especially the chart facing p. 310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ralph Linton, The Study of Man (New York: Appleton-Century, 1936), pp. 272–287.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Becker and Barnes, op. cit., pp. 15–17 et passim; for bibliography, pp. ix–x in the notes.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    The source of this concept is of course Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (Tübingen: Mohr, 1920), pp. 139— 148. The best secondary presentation is found in Talcott Parsons, The Structure of Social Action (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1937), pp. 564 ff., 661–665.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Robert E. Park, E. W. Burgess, and R. D. McKenzie, eds., The City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1925), p. 18, chapter by Park, “The City: Suggestions for the Study of Human Behavoir in the Urban Environment”.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Marcel Granet, La Pensée Chinoise (Paris: La Renaissance du Livre, 1934), pp. 119, 127, 151–160, 173–208.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Hebrides (Troy, N. Y.: Literary Club ed., vol. xv, Pafraets Book Co.); James Boswell, A Tour to the Hebrides (New York: Viking Press 1936); E. Cecil Curwen, “The Hebrides: A Cultural Backwater”, Antiquity, 12, no. 47 (Sept., 1938), pp. 261–289.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    H. C. Nixon, Possum Trot: Rural Community South (Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1941). We might also include studies such as Carle C. Zimmerman and Merle E. Frampton, Family and Society (New York: Van Nostrand, 1935), pp. 170–295.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Here we list Robert Redfield, The Folk Culture of Yucatan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941); Conrad M. Arensberg, The Irish Countryman (New York: Macmillan, 1937); Conrad M. Arensberg and Solon T. Kimball, Family and Community in Ireland (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1940). There are many other studies.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    It should also be noted that sacred societies are actually “sacralizing” societies, although in this case there may be nothing more than a slowly moving equilibrium. This point is discussed at length by Becker and Myers, op. cit. For some purposes this article supersedes Becker’s earlier article, “Processes of Secularisation”, Sociological Review (British), 24 (April—July and Oct., 1932), pp. 138–154, 266–286, as well as the section by Becker in Wiese-Becker, op. cit., pp. 319–344.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    See Charles Horton Cooley, Sociological Theory and Social Research (New York: Holt, 1930), pp. 75–83, part of article on “The Theory of Transportation”, first published in 1894; Howard Becker, “Forms of Population Movement: Prolegomena to a Study of Mental Mobility”, Social Forces, 9, No. 2, and 9, No. 3 (Dec., 1930 and March, 1931), pp. 147–160 and 351–361; and Howard Becker, “Vicinal Isolation and Mental Immobility”, Social Forces, 11 (March, 1933), pp. 326–334.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    This comes from Nietzsche’s aphorism: “Free from what? What is that to Zarathustra? Clear shall your eye tell me, Free to what?”Google Scholar

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© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden 1951

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  • Howard Becker

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