Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version

The consciousness of what is right or wrong according to certain principles of reference. It either produces peace of mind or guilt as a result of the action performed. The Western understanding of conscience was particularly influenced by Thomas Aquinas. It is a sentiment that may have a social dimension beyond the individual one. Indeed, for Durkheim, the "collective conscience" (conscience collective ) is the "total of the beliefs and sentiments common to the mean of members of the same society." There is often confusion between consciousness and conscience. The latter concept is older and refers to aspects of a moral nature, whereas the former has a more sociological dimension—for example, in "class consciousness," a context where the religious dimension may also be studied.

Roberto Cipriani


É. Durkheim, Division of Labor in Society (London: Macmillan, 1933)

P. E. Hammond, "Conscience and the Establishment Clause," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 35(1996):356-367.

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