Weber Capitalism Religion And Social Control Essay

Weber, Capitalism, Religion And Social Control Essay, Research Paper

The analysis of the relationship between religion and social change can usually be seen as a debate between those who believe that religion can be change promoting, such as Weber, and those who believe religion to be change inhibiting, such as Marx and Durkheim. Marx’s view fro example, would be that religion would inhibit social change at it legitimises and justifies the status quo, whereas this is usually contrasted with Weber, who suggests that religion can cause social change, in that it helped in the development of capitalism. 1905 saw the publication of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which was possibly the most influential of Weber’s works, and also one of the most important theories on religion and its effect on the wider economic structure. Weber was interested in the rise of capitalism in Western Europe, and also the ideas and beliefs that were influential in bringing about this development in economic behaviour. Weber believed that the religious beliefs of Calvinism led to the development of capitalism, and thus Weber believes that there is a convergence of attitudes and beliefs between the religious behaviour of Calvinism, and the concepts of capitalism. He believed that this relationship could only be found in Western Europe, and although Weber thought it would be far too simplistic to claim that Calvinism caused capitalism, he did believe that there was a strong correlation between the ideas and beliefs of calvinism and the behaviours necessary to be successful as a capitalist. Calvinism, claimed weber, rather than creating capitalism, produced a climate in which capitalism could develop, given that a number of other variables were present. When Weber discussed the concept of the Protestant Ethic he was referring to the way of life selected by calvinists, which included rules and directions on behaviour, and also outlined certain obligations and duties for the individual. He identified these principles of good conduct as follows: an individual must have a well defined career or calling in life, and this career must be pursued in a determined, single-minded fashion as they believed that God has commanded the individual to work for his glory, and success in one’s calling means that the individual has not lost God’s favour. Making money was though to be concrete evidence of success in on’s calling. The calvinists, according to Weber, disapproved of all acts of time-wasting, laziness, idle gossip, more sleep than was necessary, sexual pleasure, sport and recreation for pleasure, and anything which may distract the individual from their calling, including public houses and dance halls. The emphasis of this religion was on self-discipline and abstinence. These beliefs stem from a number of pre-conditions, both normative and institutional. Normative pre-conditions include a doctrine of pre-destination, which means the belief that God determined the fate of the individual before birth, and the behaviour of the individual cannot affect what occurs after death. However, by acting in the ways previously outlined, the calvinists were, according to Weber, looking for signs of election. Weber meant by this that each individual suffered from anxiety of salvation and in following the calvinist directives for good behaviour they are seeking proof that they are the chosen ones. They believed that a systematic approach to work led not only to good results but also to signs of election. It also helped to legitimise inequality as Calvinists were duty bound to fulfil their obligations according to their station in life and make the most of every opportunity. This meant that even those who were being exploited in low-paid jobs accepted their position, as the growth of calvinism caused them to adopt the belief that hard work was a good thing and was to be undertaken by choice rather than through necessity. Also important in the development of capitalism through calvinism are institutional preconditions such as the development of the market and the legal system. Economic activity depended on the accumulation of wealth, which according to Weber came about inadvertently through the protestant’s rejection of pleasures. Although they were not against making money, they objected to spending money on pleasurable activities and so they put all their money back into their work, which resulted in the creation of wealth. However, many criticisms have been made of Weber’s thesis, for example, throughout The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber does not make it completely clear what he means about the nature of he relationship between calvinism and capitalism. This has been termed as Weber’s strong and weak theories. In some parts of his work Weber seems to be saying that calvinism determined the development of capitalism, whereas at other times there is a weaker theory emerging whereby Weber suggests that calvinism exists along side of capitalism, and therefore it can be questioned as to whether Weber actually believes the relationship to be causational or merely correlational. Other criticisms are made about the validity of his theories and the facts that they are based on. For example, critics note that Weber never offered any evidence that believers experienced any uncertainty of salvation, and thus it can be questioned whether they were in fact anxious for signs of election, or whether the capitalist ethic stole in to their behaviour by some other means. Nor, claim critics, does Weber offer an explanation as to why their beliefs (if this is indeed what they believed) caused calvinists to behave as they did. That is, if they were so concerned with their salvation, why did they concern themselves primarily with economic growth, rather than giving money to charity or helping the less fortunate in some other way. It is important, then, to consider whether Weber interpreted the texts that he read correctly, and whether the teachings he concentrated on were in fact typical of the calvinist religion in general. Critics of Weber have since suggested that he should have examined diaries and other such documents, rather than confining his studies to just religious doctrine, in order to show whether calvinism, when practised, is the same as it is when preached. Weber’s analysis of the nature of the relationship between calvinism and capitalism has also been heavily criticised, as other sociologists would suggest that the extent to which calvinism affects capitalism is very unclear. It is maintained instead that religion is only one of a number of important factors in the development of capitalism, and that the lack of development in Hind and Islamic countries can be explained in terms of many other significant elements. It has also been suggested that capitalism may very well have preceded, and thus determined, calvinism. Another criticism made is that there are countries in Europe where capitalism did not develop as readily, although calvinism was present, for example, in Scotland. However, Marshal suggests that the reason for this is that it was economically backwards, that is, there was a lack of the institutional factors, which, claims Marshal, is exactly what Weber himself would have predicted. Weber acknowledged that capitalism did not always flourish in calvinist countries, and gave five instances under which this lack of capitalist development occurred: where there is an absence of a charismatic leader opposing the present social arrangements; where religious beliefs stress that man is powerless to change the world; where there is a complicated organisational structure which is tied to the existing order; where membership is drawn from the upper status groups; and finally, where alternative avenues are available, religion is less likely to become an agent for social change. However, the development of capitalism is not the only way in which religion can be a stimulus for social change. Contemporary and historical examples whereby religion has caused social change include the civil rights movement in the United States of America, Catholicism in Latin America and the revolutions that have been caused by following the Islamic religion in countries such as Iran. The civil rights movement that developed in America during the 1950s has been studied by several sociologists in an attempt to discover the relationship between religion and civil rights militancy. Gary Marx, in 1964, surveyed a number of black urban adults and discovered that in most cases, religion in a mainly black area would act as an opiate, while if a black church was situated in a mainly white area, then the religion could be seen to stimulate militant action. However, in 1971, Hart Nelson discovered that whether religion was a stimulant or an opiate depended on whether the denomination was ‘church-like’ or ’sect-like’. He claimed that when ‘church-like’, religion could encourage social change, while ’sect-like’ organisations tended to encourage withdrawal from the world and therefore discouraged action towards social change. A study in 1972, by Larry and Janet Hunt, however, claimed that religion clearly acted as both an “opiate and an inspiration” for the civil rights movement, and recognised the role of religious leaders such as Rev. Martin Luther King in promoting social change. Religious change can also be seen to promote social change in Latin America, where Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion. Liberation Theology can be identified as a new set of teachings which legitimised the uprising of new revolutionary groups such as the ‘guerrilla church’, as it became known, which was led by leaders such as Bishop Helder Camara. In Islamic countries, religion has been a great promoter of social change in that it formed the basis for all resistance to Westernisation, leading to revolutions such as those led by the Ayatollah Khomenini which brought about the establishment of an Islamic government in Iran; and that led by Colonel Gadaffi, which fought to return Libya to the traditionally Islamic way of life. Other perspectives have, however, disagreed entirely with the concept of religion as a promoter of social change. Marx claimed that religion was an effective agent of social control, referring to religion as the “opiate of the masses”. Therefore, says Marx, religion is not a promoter of social change, as it reduces an individual’s hostility to wards an unequal and exploitative society. Durkheim would agree with Marx to a certain extent, that is, he believes that religion “reaffirms the conscience collective”, although Durkheim sees this as functional to the needs of society, and therefore a good thing, while Marx sees it as being functional only to the needs of capitalism. Halevy would agree that religion is social change inhibiting, as he claims that during the 18th and 19th centuries, discontented workers were kept only from action by the appearance of Wesley and Methodism, thus religion prevented a potential revolution. However, criticisms have since been made of this theory, in particular it has been suggested that the rebellion was quelled during this period because the ruling classes knew when to make concessions, rather than there being an underlying religious reason. Durkheim’s view of religion as social change inhibiting comes from a belief that religion brings people together, integrating them into society and preventing them from trying to change society in any way. He sees this as a good thing, as he looks only at he harmonious side of religion and disregards any dysfunctions along with all historical evidence of the wars and deaths caused by religion. Glock and Spark, after studies of their own, claimed that religion can be as quick to promote social change as it is to inhibit it, and therefore religion can only be one small factor in the promotion and inhibition of social change. However, it is worth noting that Weber himself acknowledges that religion can be change inhibiting and refers to the Hindu notion of Karma, where anything suffered for in one life will be atoned for in another, thus this prevents and discourages Hindu people from taking any form of action that will lead to social change. Critics also point out that Weber’s work itself can be seen as evidence for religion as social change inhibiting, in that Weber himself says that the calvinist religion helps to discourage the exploited working classes from rising against their oppression, by encouraging them to accept their iron cage and fulfil their station in life. In conclusion, ten, it can be seen that the debate regarding religion and social change is complex. Weber’s analysis seems at first to give full support to the theory that religion encourages social and economic behaviour to change. However, when considered closer it can be seen that the analysis is far from being unflawed. Historical and contemporary evidence shows that i different instances religion can be either social change inhibiting or promoting, depending on a number of other factors, and therefore it cannot be said, as Weber attempts to say in parts of his work, that there is any direct causal relationship between religion and social change.


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