Durkheim's Theory of Triangular Force Relations and Its Application to Christian Collegia in the Roman Empire

18 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2015

Date Written: January 20, 2015


Emile Durkheim, in his Professional Ethics and Civic Morals argues that individual freedom in a given society is the product of a triangular relation of forces composed of the State; secondary authorities like the family, church or guild; and the individual. The State, acting in its own interests, acts as a check upon the secondary authorities which, being closer to the individual, will tend toward tyranny if left unchecked. Likewise, the secondary authorities, through their collective force, provide safe harbor for the individual from the excesses of State power.

Both in the Roman Republic and into the Roman Empire, secondary associations known as collegia were to be found in abundance, representing a wide spectrum of economic classes and dedicated to advancing diverse causes. Senators to soldiers, slaves to tradesmen found camaraderie with others advancing everything from a fine meal, promoting religious observance, giving proper burial to the dead or providing mutual benevolence among members. Their relation with the Roman State was at times tenuous, subject to regulation which resulted in the dissolution of private association activities when the activities were deemed illicit. Collegia provided their membership opportunities to engage and shape Roman society through the promotion of commonly held values and to engage in social and professional activities without fear of State intervention.

The primary goal of this paper is to primarily examine the phenomena of the Roman collegia, and in particular those associations of the early Christian church, as a manifestation of this widespread phenomena in the social order of the Roman Empire between the first and fourth centuries. Particular attention will be paid to the interplay predicted by Durkheim between the Roman State and Christian associations to see in what way the State protected the individual from the secondary authority’s excesses as well as how such associations provided for the enhancement of the individual liberty of their membership. The secondary goal will be to critique Durkheim’s theory as it applies to Roman Christian collegia and to ascertain whether the triangular relation of forces did, as a historical fact, play out in the way that Durkheim had predicted.

Keywords: Emile Durkheim, collegia, voluntary associations, Roman history, Rome, early Christianity

Suggested Citation

Young, Thomas R., Durkheim's Theory of Triangular Force Relations and Its Application to Christian Collegia in the Roman Empire (January 20, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2552947 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2552947

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics