Relationship between religion and early capitalism

Max Weber on capitalism and religion | Thought Leader

relationship between religion and early capitalism

Weber did not say that religion was still the actual driving force behind capitalism in his day. Instead, he said that previous religious fervor had sort of shaped. He establishes the link between capitalism and religion as follows (p. This reversal of what we should call the natural relationship, so irrational To be sure , since Weber wrote this in the early 20th century capitalism has. Boer discusses the relationship between religion and capitalism. although we should remember that this early text by Marx is heavy with.

From there, he went on to receive a B. His religious superiors selected him for higher studies at the Gregorian University in Rome, where he earned a Bachelor of Theology degree, graduating cum laude.

A younger brother followed Novak in religious study, eventually becoming a priest. In Januaryafter twelve years in the seminary and within months of being ordained, Novak left the Congregation of Holy Cross, moving to New York City to work on a novel, before being accepted to Harvard on a graduate fellowship that autumn.

In Novak married Karen Ruth Laub. Laub-Novak died in The Novaks have three children and four grandchildren. Their dinners in Washington were described as a favorite salon of conservative Washington — even though both Karen and Michael were active Democrats well into mid-life.

relationship between religion and early capitalism

From the time he was a young man, Novak thought that philosophers err when they break contact with the concrete issues of their time, and he resolved to hold his judgments under the pressure of regular journalism. From toNovak launched a new humanities program for the Rockefeller Foundation. Many of his initiatives, including the humanities fellowships and the National Humanities Center in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, endure today.

Economics and Religion |

For this edited volume, Novak convened a diverse group of experts to hammer out points of agreement. Its recommendation of a work requirement for those on welfare was controversial at the time but became a mainstream position and the centerpiece of the welfare reform legislation. Gradually, he became a trailblazer in what came to be called the neoconservative movement. Simon and former Education Secretary William Bennett.

Whereas the statements of the American Catholic bishops focused their moral reasoning on various weapons systems, the lay letter emphasized the need to change the closed Soviet political system.

It also recommended a switch from an offensive deterrent strategy to strategic defense, a position taken before President Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly known as Star Wars.

relationship between religion and early capitalism

In he was named the George Frederick Jewett Chair in religion and public policy. Novak retired from the American Enterprise Institute in His selection as recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion capped a career of leadership in theological and philosophical discourse.

Closer to his project was Troeltsch's attempt to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity on the grounds that it promulgated both a particularly transcendent view of the supernatural and a definite set of social teachings.

Nonetheless, Weber regarded Troeltsch's work as guided too much by theological purposes and a normative commitment to maximizing the relevance of religion to the modern world, as well as by too great an emphasis upon the social teachings that were explicitly developed by the Christian churches on the basis of official doctrine.

Weber was interested in what he called the "practical-ethical" applications of religious teachings, the methodical, quotidian working out of theology and religious teaching in concrete circumstances. Spirit of capitalism Claiming that he was attempting only to show that it was just as possible to produce an idealistic interpretation of the rise of modern capitalism centered on religious matters as a materialistic one, Weber set out to provide an account of the "spirit" of modern capitalism.

In emphasizing spirit in the sense of the ethos that animates a certain kind of economic action and sustains certain kinds of economic institutionsWeber was in effect insisting that even though much of the behavior that informs the modern world is indeed sustained by what Marx had called the dull compulsion of economics, one could not plausibly account for its emergence solely in reference to economic change as such, not least because the monetary economy had initially become much more significant in the West than in the East, and then only in certain parts of the West.

Weber thus set himself the task of stipulating what aspects of Christianity in general and of Protestantism in particular encouraged the growth of a positive orientation to the economic realm.

Weber began by emphasizing Martin Luther 's injunction that the world should be made into a monastery. Whereas in traditional Christian teaching a clear distinction had been made between those who were called to live a monastic life of self-sacrifice particularly in reference to the vows of poverty and chastity and those who lived in the world, Luther argued that all Christians should be capable of following a God-inspired way of worldly life.

Thus from Weber's point of view Lutheranism constituted a crucial unfolding and further rationalization of the inherently inner-worldly attitude of Christianity. The religious calling was, in other words, considered pursuable in this world. There was no need for a separate group of exemplary religious who turned emphatically away from the everyday world. Weber argued, however, that Luther's ideas in this and other respects were not so radical as those of John Calvin.

The Lutheran conception of the calling was, in spite of its greater inner-worldliness in comparison with traditional, Catholic Christianity, essentially passive. It required the typical believer to live as religious a life as possible while remaining indifferent to the wider social context.

In other words, the Lutheran was to take the world as he or she found it and respect the secular authorities and institutional characteristics of the wider society. The point of the religious life was to concentrate upon one's personal and familial circumstances in intimate relationship with God.

From Weber's point of view this Lutheran ideal was not sufficient to explain the development in the Western world of an ethos that positively encouraged active involvement in worldly and particularly economic affairs, even though it opened the door to such involvement. It was thus to the rather different Protestant attitude of Calvin that he turned in his search for the most significant source of the spirit of capitalism.

Before considering what Weber saw in Calvinism in this respect it is necessary to emphasize again that Weber was concerned with the capitalism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Capitalism in the sense of profit-seeking had existed in many parts of the world for many centuries, but modern capitalism of the kind that had developed in the West since the late eighteenth century had distinctive characteristics.

It was a form of economic life that involved the careful calculation of costs and profits, the borrowing and lending of money, the accumulation of capital in the form of money and material assets, investment, private property, and the employment of laborers and employees in a more or less unrestricted labor market. Given Weber's interest in the spirit, or ethos, of modern capitalism it was what one may loosely call the attitudinal aspect of capitalism and even more particularly the attitudes of businessmen that concerned him.

What he was thus looking for was an image of the economic realm that emphasized the virtue of disciplined enterprise and a positive concern with economic activity as such more or less regardless of the material riches that the successful accumulated.

The central feature of Calvinism in terms of Weber's interest in the growth of the modern monetary economy was its special emphasis upon the doctrine of predestination, the idea that the conception of God as all-powerful, all-knowing, and inscrutable led inexorably to the conclusion that the fate of the world and of human individuals was predetermined.

For Weber the crucial question hinged upon the practical problem posed to those who subscribed to this doctrine. Specifically, how did Calvinistic individuals decide to act in the world when they believed that God had already determined the fate of each individual and that only a relatively small proportion of human beings could be saved? Weber argued that individuals were constrained to look for signs of having been accorded an elite salvational status. Those who were most successful would tend to regard their worldly success as an indication that they were among God's chosen.

While the conviction that one had been saved was the most general indicator of being of the elect, Calvinism's emphasis upon each person having a calling in life, a calling to strive in as disciplined a manner as possible, without self-indulgence, strongly encouraged the view that worldly success was a confirmation of acting as an instrument of God's will and a sign of elect status. Thus, in Weber's interpretation, Calvinism constituted a further evolution of the Lutheran idea that life itself could be subjected to the monastic conception of the religious calling.

Whereas Luther had adumbrated the relatively passive notion of being called to be as devout as possible in the world, Calvin had articulated a more dynamic and active conception of the calling.

Calvin called upon individuals to be religious by engaging with the world. And even though Calvinism as a religious doctrine did not specify how one could be supremely confident that one was acting as an instrument of God, it certainly encouraged the faithful to become actively involved in the major institutional spheres of society and, in so doing, to take individual responsibility as agents of God.

Weber maintained that it was psychologically inevitable that those who were most tangibly successful as a result of disciplined, ascetic striving in the world would tend to think of themselves as chosen by God. Because worldly indulgence and luxuriating in the fruits of one's endeavors were precluded by the Calvinist ethos, the result of disciplined economic action was the accumulation of financial capital. For Weber, the process of economic investment followed by accumulation of profit and more investment was intimately related to the process of gaining confirmation of salvation, even though such a calculating attitude toward salvation was not prescribed by Calvinist theology.

Weber regarded the Calvinist doctrine of predestination which has appeared with much less explicitness in many branches of monotheistic religions as the extreme theological extension of the Christianity that had developed after the founding of the Christian church.

It was the logical consummation of the idea of an omniscient God and the commitment to religious involvement in the world. Calvinism thus constituted a logically perfected theodicy. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Weber concentrated on showing, as he put it, that a one-sided, idealistic account of the rise of capitalism in the sense of stressing the role of ideas was just as plausible as the equally one-sided materialist accounts produced by Marxists.

In any case, he added, a historical account of the rise of capitalism ought to acknowledge the fact that capitalism or any other mode of production is not merely an objective structural phenomenon but is also, at least in part, sustained by a set of presuppositions that encourage specific interests in work and industry and discourage others.

Thus, contrary to some interpretations of his work, he did not seek to provide a monocausal account of the rise of modern capitalism but rather to stress the ideational factors that had encouraged the capitalist work ethic and had been neglected by the Marxists.

Even though he was intent on emphasizing the critical significance of religion in the rise of modern capitalism, Weber did not simply posit Protestantism as the cause and capitalism as the effect. Rather he insisted that a vital aspect of capitalism is the "spirit," or ethos, that legitimates it, and he sought the principal origins of that spirit.

In this regard it should be emphasized that Weber undoubtedly exaggerated the degree to which the affinity between certain branches of Protestantism and capitalist economic success had been overlooked prior to his writings. Nevertheless, his own attempt to provide a detailed explanation of that affinity was unique and pathbreaking.

It should also be stressed that according to Weber the spirit of capitalism had gradually become self-sustaining, so that by his own time it was no longer grounded upon the "Protestant ethic. His own ideas exacerbated the debate and have since been subjected to extensive criticism and appraisal. Indeed, the significance of his argument probably became greater in the course of the twentieth century. This is so not merely because of the purely scholarly interest in the making of the modern world and the crucial role of the West in that regard but also because the great economic disparities between contemporary societies became a matter of widespread concern, controversy, and conflict.

Weber's major thesis about the promotion of the spirit of capitalism and, more generally, of economic success is thus of considerable relevance to the discussion of the making of the modern world as a whole and, more specifically, the distribution of resources and wealth within it.

Before turning to such matters, however, it is necessary to indicate the ways in which Weber fleshed out his thesis about the origins of the modern Western consciousness. Economic ethics In the last decade of his life — Weber engaged in a series of studies of non-Christian civilizations with the express intent of explicating the economic ethics of their major religions. He completed studies of India and China, as well as of the religion of ancient Israel, but not full-scale studies of medieval Christianity and Islam.

These efforts were largely guided by a general analytical contrast between Occidental and Oriental world-images, at the center of which were religious-metaphysical conceptions of the relationship between the cosmos and the world. His aim was to find out why there had arisen in the West and more in some parts of the West than in others the instrumental rationality that seemed to lie at the heart of not merely modern economic life but also modern science, modern forms of organization what he called rational-legal bureaucracyand modern life generally—or in other words, why modern capitalism and other aspects of modern life and consciousness had not arisen in Eastern civilizations.

The set of contrasts that Weber employed in his inquiries into economic ethics may be summarized as follows. The Eastern conception of the supramundane world centered upon a notion of eternal being, whereas the Western conception involved belief in a personal God.

The first tended to encourage and to be consolidated by a mystical, otherworldly orientation, while the second was closely related to an ascetic, innerworldly orientation.

The Eastern image was to be seen in its most acute and logically consistent form in classical Buddhism, which emphasized the basically illusory character of worldly life and regarded release from the contingencies of the everyday world as the highest religious aspiration. In contrast to Calvinism, its Western parallel and and opposite, Buddhism directed the attention of its adherents, particularly Buddhist monks, away from the conditions of everyday life and thus did not encourage the continuous application of religious ideals to the concrete circumstances of the world.

More generally speaking, Weber maintained that in India, China, and Japan the dominant worldviews lacked the dynamic created in monotheistic religions, particularly in Christianity, by the conception of a demanding God who had enjoined believers to transform the world in his image. Thus in Eastern societies there was much more concern with the maintenance of an organically ordered society and the promotion of organic social ethics. It is important to note that in his studies of Eastern societies, Weber took great pains to discuss the ways in which religious ideas and social structures were mutually reinforcing.

relationship between religion and early capitalism

In other words, even though he ascribed great significance to religion, he wished to demonstrate the specific links between religion and other aspects of human societies.

But precisely because he did attend so closly to religion, his work has frequently been interpreted as an expression of religious determinism. Weber's work on religion and economic life has been subject to an immense amount of exegesis and criticism, most of it centered on his thesis about the Western origins of capitalism.

While much of the criticism has been well-grounded with respect to the historical record, a good deal of it has derived from tacit acceptance of the view that the modern economy is an autonomous realm lacking any kind of religious-symbolic grounding or relevance.

During the s and s, however, renewed interest was generated in the religious foundations of economic life. The idea of the autonomy of economic life and action, as characteristically expressed in the work of professional economists, was strongly challenged, and religious organizations and movements became increasingly concerned about economic issues.

Weber's work hovers explicitly or implicitly in the background of much of the contemporary interest in the relationship between religion and economics. The Modern World While Weber was clearly conscious of the extent to which nineteenth-century entrepreneurial capitalism was itself being transformed, not least through the expansion of the modern bureaucratic state, his work on religion and economic life has primary relevance to the growth or lack of growth of classical, as opposed to what is now often called late, or advanced, capitalism.

Moreover, Weber's work touched little, if at all, upon one of the most significant ingredients of modern economic life, particularly in capitalist societies—consumerism. Weber, as has been emphasized, was interested in the development of entrepreneurial asceticism an asceticism that, for him, had become freed of its original religious mooring. In contemporary language he was concerned with the origins of the work ethic.

However, a more hedonistic dimension of economic culture is to be found in the odyssey of capitalism. Certainly the value placed upon the accumulation of consumer goods is central to the modern form of capitalism.

An interest in consumerism has led some social scientists—notably anthropologists—to attempt to lay bare the symbolic basis of patterns of consumption. That is, some analysts have become increasingly concerned with the underlying meanings that are produced and distributed by the advertising, purchase, and display of consumer goods.

While not specifically involving the study of religion, this relatively new focus is part of a growing tendency to situate the study of economic behavior and institutions in a broader sociocultural context. Among the more important specific developments that suggest a return to the thorough investigation of the relationship between religion and economic matters are these: The capitalist world system In fact these three phenomena discussed above are closely related, with the third probably being the most important.

In the tradition largely initiated by Weber, the primary concern has been to connect the comparative economic success of societies and of groups and regions within societies with forms of religio-cultural tradition and religious commitment.


But a contrasting approach, called world-system theory, has arisen out of the increasing awareness that the world constitutes a single sociocultural system, and that the affairs of particular societies, groups, and regions are inextricably bound up with it.

In one of its most influential forms, the theory maintains that the modern world system is largely the result of the growth of capitalism and that the system should be understood as a primarily economic phenomenon. According to this view, the capitalist world system, which had its earliest beginnings in Europe some five hundred years ago, has spread to the point that it now embraces the entire world.

In the version developed by Immanuel Wallerstein, who has placed himself in the Marxist tradition, world-system theory reverses the priority that Weber's work gives to religion, for Wallerstein regards the religious cleavages that occurred in sixteenth-century Europe as consequences of the placement of societies in the nascent world economy.

Specifically, he argues that those societies that became predominantly Protestant were the core societies of the embryonic world capitalist system, while those that remained or became Catholic were "peripheral" societies whose major economic function was the supply of raw materials to the dominant manufacturing centers.

Subsequently, as the world system expanded so as to become literally a worldwide system, those early peripheral units of the system became semiperipheral, insofar as they were economically situated between the core capitalist centers of economic domination and the peripheral societies of the world. Influence of religion Thus, in the perspective of the school of thought largely led by Wallerstein, religion has played a significant, but nonetheless epiphenomenal, part in the making of the modern global system.

It has, in other words, played an important ideological role, in the Marxist sense of ideology as the form in which inequality and exploitation are presented as justified. To a considerable extent this argument constitutes the highwater mark of the economistic view that everything in human life can be reduced to and explained by economic factors.

Yet, in its very extremeness, it has stimulated what promises to be a constructive reaction in the form of a reassessment of the relationship between religion and economic life.

In other words, just as the view, promoted by Marx and Engels, that individual societies are driven by conflicts attendant upon economic motivations stimulated the rich, if controversial, attempts by Weber to show that under certain circumstances religion could be a critical factor in sociocultural change, so the view of the entire world as governed by the dynamics of economic motivations and relationships is stimulating new ways of thinking about the economic significance of religion.

relationship between religion and early capitalism

Talcott Parsons A major example of such thinking, although not a direct reaction to the materialist form of world-system theory, is to be found in the work of Talcott Parsons.

Greatly influenced by Weber, whose The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism he translatedParsons devoted much of his academic career to the question of what others have called the degree of embeddedness of economic life.

At the center of his thinking in this regard is the general proposition that while economic activity is essential to human life, it is neither fully determining nor fully determined. Nonetheless, Parsons acknowledged that at certain points in history the economic realm has appeared to be particularly significant.

Thus he attended to the various ways in which this apparent significance has been interpreted. Indeed, one of his main interests was the way in which the modern discipline of economics arose as one reaction among others to the cultural thematization of the idea that the economic realm is the central and most problematic realm of human existence.

Specifically, Parsons examined the relationship between the responses to this idea and the industrial revolution that began in certain Western societies in the second half of the eighteenth century. In this regard Parsons circumvented the perennial question of whether the economic or "material" aspects of life are more or less important than the "ideal" aspects. While conceding the great importance of the economic aspects, he tried to show that the ways in which they are interpreted and symbolized are of no less importance.


The perception of economic autonomy yielded a number of different religious or quasi-religious interpretations, two of which carried it to the point of economic determinism. These were classical economics as it developed in the wake of the writings of Adam Smith and the particular socialist tradition initiated by Marx. Parsons regarded these economistic responses to the industrial revolution as being themselves quasi-religious in nature, for they carried with them sets of ideas concerning the nature and meaning of human existence.

relationship between religion and early capitalism

He proposed the important idea that nothing in social life is or can be purely economic. Economic change Wallerstein's world-system theory, it should be emphasized, originated as a direct response to the modernization theories of the s and s, which owed much to the writing of Weber on the relationship between religious and economic change.

New life was given to Weber's work by the widespread concern with the economic gap between established societies, particularly those of the industrial West, and those that had won their independence during the wave of decolonization of the late s and the s.

Many social scientists tried to account for disparities in economic circumstances and growth rates by assessing the degree to which religion encouraged or discouraged involvement in economic enterprise and the development of a work ethic.

A strong tendency among modernization theorists in the s and s was to maintain that cultural change, sometimes expressed more specifically as religious change, was a prerequisite of economic change, and that the mainly non-Christian societies of the world as well as most of the Catholic Christian ones needed either a Protestant ethic or its functional equivalent as a motivational base for engaging in economic activites that would produce economic growth.

This was not at all an original idea, because, as has been seen, during the nineteenth century the claim that Protestantism in its Calvinist version encouraged commitment to enterprise and work had been quite widespread. Indeed in Latin America during that period it was not uncommon for the political leaders of newly independent states to encourage the spread of Protestantism in the hope that it would yield economic growth in the face of the dominant, largely anticapitalist Catholic ethos.

World-system theory achieved prominence largely because of its opposition to the view that poor societies can achieve prosperity by their own internal efforts even if this means the importation of new cultural and religious forms. In place of this internalist conception of societal change, the theory afforded a basically externalist conception, one that regarded the position of individual societies in the world economic system as almost entirely the consequence of the character of the system as a whole.

Rather than attributing economic growth or lack of growth to indigenous, including religious, characteristics, world-system theory maintained that the economic fates of individual societies are determined by the functioning and expansion of a capitalist world system in which even internally socialistic societies are constrained to act capitalistically in their relations with other societies.

World as a whole Even though a number of critical weaknesses have been exposed in this argument, there can be little doubt that it is to the world as a whole that one must now look in considering many of the most important questions about the relationship between economic and religious factors in modern life.

One major example of this is the development of liberation theologymost conspicuously in Latin America. Latin American liberation theology, which has counterparts on all other continents, grew in part from a perspective on the world as a whole that is closely related to Marxist world-system theory. Dependency theory developed in Latin America in the s in opposition to the view that the relatively backward economic state of Latin America should be attributed, inter alia, to its fatalistic Catholicism.

Rather, it was argued, Latin America's condition was to be largely explained by its dependent status in relation to affluent countries, in particular the United States, whose very advantages were made possible by the economic underdevelopment of Third World societies.

In combination with that perspective on the world system some leaders of the liberationist movement effected what during the late s seemed an unlikely fusion of Christian theology and Marxist ideology, thus to a significant degree violating the traditional Marxist view that religion is, at least in the modern world, an enemy of socialist revolution.

There is much debate as to the degree to which this fusion of Christian ideas concerning the achievement of the kingdom of God upon earth and the liberation of religious consciousness with Marxist ideas concerning the fundamentality of economic forces and relationships is simply a marriage of strategic convenience rather than a genuine synthesis. Nonetheless, the degree to which religion and politics, more specifically theology and ideology, have been recently combined among Marxist-tinged liberationist movements, as well as in movements often labeled as fundamentalist ranging from Christian fundamentalism in the United States to Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle Eastis very striking.

Many such developments can best be understood in reference to the fact that the conspicuousness and evident fatefulness of the global economy whether one calls it capitalistic or something else elicits specific responses from movements, societies, regions, and so on, involving attempts to imbue the world order and its parts with some kind of symbolic meaning, such as the legitimation of privileged economic circumstances what Weber called the theodicy of good fortune or the attempt to overcome underprivileged conditions.

In any case it is evident that the very different projections by Marx and Weber of a modern world without religion, which would allegedly yield to the force of economic interests and processes, have not yet been realized. What thus has changed most of all since the period in which Weber wrote extensively about the economic ethics of the major religions is the highly conspicuous emergence of the global economy.