Free Custom «Religion and Modernity» Essay Paper

Free Custom «Religion and Modernity» Essay Paper


By analyzing the true nature of ‘Weber’s explanation’ it may be possible to clarify certain issues both in the interpretation of Weber’s work and in the contemporary development of sociological theory. The work of max Weber reflects a continued interest in charting the varying paths taken by universal cultural history as reflected in the development of the great world civilization (Hirsch et al, 2002). Weber wrote an essay titled ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ that was published in the Archiving. The major discussion in the essay was his attempts to link the rise of a new sort of significant modern capitalism to the religious ethics of Protestantism, especially the Calvinist variety, with its emphasis on work in a calling directed toward the rational ascetic mastery of this world.  He emphasized on the thesis that Calvinist ethic and ideas influenced the development of capitalism.

On Weber’s view, religious reformation was a crucial period in western European history as it sought fundamental reorientation of basic cultural frameworks of spiritual direction and human outlook and destined to have a great impact on economic life as well as other aspects of modern culture. Weber noted the shift of Europe’s economic center after the reformation away from catholic countries such as France, Spain and Italy, and toward protestant countries such as Netherlands, England, Scotland and Germany. He concludes that societies having more Protestants were those that have a more developed capitalist economy. Weber wrote with deep concern on social phenomena such as charisma and mysticism, which he saw it as contrasting to the modern world and its underlying process of rationalization. Great influence on sociological theory is because of his persistence on the need for objectivity and his analysis of human action in terms of motivation.

Religious factors

It is historically known that Christian religious devotion has been accompanied by rejection of behaviors that are not interesting or exiting while focusing on economic pursuit. The Calvinism Protestants supported the rational pursuit of economic gain and worldly activities dedicated to it, seeing them as endowed with moral and spiritual significance. Weber in his books discusses religion as one in which in some instances can be an independent variable and, as such, a source of social change. The book focuses on the way ideas act back on interests and shape activities, especially economic activities. According to Amanda (2001), these is evident when Weber views salvation as a key idea that drives action, noting that his “concern is essentially with the quest for salvation…insofar as it produced certain consequences for practical behavior in the world,” in particular “a positive orientation to mundane affairs” (par. 12). Weber emphasized on the motivation for strenuous capitalist development that involves reinvesting the fruits of one’s labor. Both hard work in the world and abstemiousness is demanded. This motivation is found on the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. Since the Calvinists were not allowed to spend their wealth on profligate living, reinvestment made the most sense. After some time, this led to increasing accumulation of capital, minimization of consumption and eventually the continuous economic growth and industrial energy of modern capitalism.

Weber’s interest in social change leads him to develop interest in the issues of religious leadership, since social change requires leaders for motivation and for the direction of action. The prophets in his book are identified as quintessential religious leader that drives change.

The concept of modernity refers to a world constructed a new through the active and conscious intervention of individuals. Weber viewed modernity as rationalization and bureaucratization. For him, the history of modernization meant increased rationalization. Everything that human depended on would be controlled by large capitalist bureaucratic organizations. Weber’s perspective on modernity is shown to be a liberal version of value pluralism and decisions.

Rise of modernity

According to Weber, modernity is characterized by the eclipse of a religion-cosmological world view by a secular one (Seidman, 2007). Weber explains that, modern capitalism was not produced by purely economic factors but arose from the Calvinist doctrine of predestination and its influence on human conduct. Weber’s socio historical account of secularization is developed in his analysis of the process of disenchantment and intellectualization. Weber classified capitalism into two types; the adventurer and bourgeois capitalism (Hall 2004, pp.165). The adventurer capitalism is based upon the use of conquest and violence to extract profits and it was common during the European acquisition of colonies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the period of slavery in the Americas. The bourgeois capitalism is based on rational action, and non-violent means of exploiting labor and it emerged from a set of cultural values basing on the notion of a vocation, which is a calling from God.  This calling was to influence the behavior in the world. The peaceable, bourgeois capitalism developed conditions for expansion of peaceful trade and production, stimulated by profits.

Although Weber repudiated the cognitive bias in evolutionary theories; he retained an evolutionary perspective in that he argued that religion would decline as a source of personal identity and moral community in modernity. He maintains that as culture is intellectualized it devalues religion and, in turn, is devalued by religion. With this effect, religion is rendered powerless as a meaning system securing personal identity and social solidarity.  

Lasting effect of Puritanism

According to Engerman (2000), Weber emphasized that money making as a calling had been “contrary to the ethical feelings of whole epochs…” ( par.1). Lack of moral support in pre-protestant societies  has led to business being strictly limited to the traditional manner of  life , the traditional rate of profit and the traditional amount of work. But these pattern has been destroyed and often entirely without any essential change in the form of organization. Weber argued that Calvinism changed the spirit of capitalism, transforming it into rational and unashamed pursuit of profit for its own sake. Uncertainty about salvation, according to Weber, had the psychological effect of producing a single-minded search for certainty. If one glorified God and conform to Gods requirements in this life, then that would provide a chance to earn salvation. Therefore, upright living which might not earn salvation is returned as evidence of salvation. Because of the Calvinists living that was rational and dominated by the aim to add glory of God on earth, there was no room for diversion and creation of an ascetic behavior. Orthodox Puritanism exhibited an inherent tension between approval of economic activity and emphasis upon the moral boundaries that define acceptable economic activity.

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Weber recommends that neither leisure nor enjoyment, but only activities that serve to increase glory of God according to the definite manifestations of his will are demanded.  The recent cultural values are not religious values, as such. Rather, such presumably secular values as the need to achieve, intolerance for corruption, respect for property rights, are all correlated with economic growth. However, in its own time Puritanism produced a social and economic ethic known for precisely these sorts of values (Engerman 2000, par 10).  Weber viewed rationalization of western world initially as puritans’ side products to practice their religion beliefs, but he only found that rationalization controlled their creators. Individual self-fulfillment has been deeply disempowered; facing up social order completely rationalized, people had an unrecorded sense of powerless. According to Weber, some types of Protestantism have an important ascetic component, such as Calvinism, pietism, Methodism and the Baptist sects (Swedberg and Agevall, 2005, pp.9). All these played a key role in the formation and spread of the modern capitalist spirit from sixteenth century onwards. Religion builds a positive attitude to wealth as a sign of God’s benevolence, and its ascetic and activist approach not only to economy but to the life in general. 


In his book Weber examined the relationship between Calvinist (or puritan) morality, compulsive labor, bureaucracy and economic success under capitalism. Weber argued that when  self-denial to worldly things that is exercised by religious few  in the medieval catholic monastery,  that is directed towards salvation in the world beyond, is brought into the conduct of everyday affairs, it shall contribute greatly to the systematic rationalization and functional organization of every sphere of existence, especially economic life. Weber’s approach on religion and social change involves a particular conception of the relationship between material and ideal interests and ideas. His understanding on this relationship is a major contribution to the sociology of religion.

Weber had the highest respect for individuals motivated by authentic spiritual striving. On the other hand, he maintained that today religion is a private affair discordant with and ultimately subject to the secularizing pressures of everyday life. Weber was correct in underlining the immense social consequences of religious beliefs and values.



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