Both Emile Durkheim and Max Weber are considered "fathers" of sociology. Writing in the late 19th century, these men built the foundations to the new field of sociology in their attempts to come to terms with the profound changes in modern life. Both men studied the structure of society. The biggest difference between them was that Durkheim emphasised society's objective and measurable influence on individuals and Weber studied the subjective meanings individuals put on their own behaviour to understand society. Despite their different methodologies, they both highlighted the centrality of comparative sociology in studying societies.
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Durkheim and Weber believed in the importance of classification in the organisation of human experience. This required the development of general concepts that apply to more than one case. These concepts would allow them to come up with general theories about society and solve the social problems that have eluded historians, who merely examined countless special cases in history and failed to organise human experience into a general theory. For example, Durkeim built a classification of species based on levels of development. So the sociologist must examine the level of development in a particular society to make appropriate judgments: what is normal for a primitive society will not be normal for a complex society.
Both Durkheim and Weber created ideal types to interpret sociological phenomena. The ideal type did not come directly from empirical reality; rather it was created artificially out of what Durkeim or Weber thought were the "essential" features of some complex historical situation. The use of ideal types was a tool of simplification to aid in the understanding of otherwise complex topics.
Both thinkers believed in the importance of using empirical procedures to support their sociological hypothesis. This means they linked causes and effects together in their observations of societies. Weber mentioned the importance of "causal significance" in his observations and Durkheim spoke of "establishing relations of causality."
Durkheim and Weber viewed religion as a reflection of society rather than an external supernatural reality. They saw modern society as rooted in the processes of religion. Durkheim thought God is not only the idealisation of human nature, as Karl Marx believed, but God is society itself. This means that God and society both play the same functional role, specifically, the role of a superior being on which the individual must depend. Weber had a similar conception of religion. He said that religious symbols came to represent pre-existing political systems. Both men examined the early history of man to form theories about religion.
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