Beliefs in Society - Max Weber's Theory of Religion and Capitalism

  • Most of the time religion was ideological and therefore, inhibited the potential for social change.
  • Religion - specifically, a Protestant religion called Calvinism - was instrumental in heliping bring about this major economic change in Western societies.

The ideological function of religion.

  • Religions have at least on factor in common - they aimed to help people make sense of life by creating explanations for various types of inequality.
  • Religion is ideological in two ways:
  • (1) It have assurance to the powerful and wealthy by stressing that their position was natural or God-given.
  • (2) It offered religious reasons for poverty and suffering in terms of themes such as wickedness, sins committed in former lives etc.
  • Both these themes legitimate the status quo - they aim to preserve unequal societies.
  • Religion prevents the possibility of any major social change that might bring about equality and fairness.

Religion as an agency of economic and social change.

  • Weber did not accept the Marxist view that religious beliefs were always determined or shaped by the economic infrastructure of society.
  • Religious ideas could be independant of that infrastructure.
  • Weber rejects the economic determinism of Marx.

The role of Calvinist religious beliefs and practices in bringing about capitalism.

  • While similar ecomomic conditions prevailed in China, India and Europe, capitalism only developed in the latter.
  • Capitalism had developed in the late 16th century in those parts of Europe where a Protestant denomination known as Calvinism was dominant.
  • The attitudes and orientations of Calvinism had greatly contributed to a "spirit of capitalism".
  • Calvinism has provided the cultural conditions in which capitalism had developed.
  • Focused on two elements of Calvinist beliefs which he claimed brought about this cultural climate:
  • (1) Predestination:
  • They were the elect who God had…


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