4. Max Weber's approach - religion as a cultural pattern

Max Weber essence of religion differs from Emile Durkheim conception because seemed to be adequately reflected in the definition created by Clifford Geertz. Geertz describes religion as "A synopsis of cosmic order, a set of religious beliefs, (...) a gloss upon the mundane world of social relationships and psychological events.

It render them graspable" [Geertz 1973, p. 124]. Geertz adds also that religious beliefs "(.) do not merely interpret social and psychological processes in cosmic terms - in which case they would be philosophical, not religious - but they shape them" [Geertz 1973, p. 124]. It seems that all that Max Weber investigated on the field of social development in relation to religion, was assumed in these words.
4 Foucault, Michel (1975). Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, New York: Random House.

Max Weber is known as a one of the masters of sociology, who became famous for his reflection on Protestantism and its impacts on development of modern capitalism. But Weber analyzed also other religious systems, such as: Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, Judaism [Weber 1984] however, his approach to each of them was the same - as to the system of common beliefs that influences human action, impacts on men's life-style, generates specific attitudes towards life, and human kind - to the whole mundane world. Max Weber proves that each of the religious system generates its own set of meanings, axioms, norms of human behavior that shape human life and attitude towards it. But only Protestantism, and Calvinism as its core, could create capitalism in Occidental 'manner' within western modern societies5. Protestant spirit denied English-styled liberalism (with its core values such as: naturally based competitiveness, hard work, greed [Seidman 1989, p. 73] and 'consisted' of such puritan's attitudes - assumed in the theology of predestination as the God's calling - like: self-discipline, restraint, value of work (hard-work), conspicuous consumption, prosperous business or career achievements; all those were clear examples of saved soul.

All above suggests that Max Weber's understanding of religion has deeply cultural meaning. But not only. Religion can be also interpreted as the main source of change that brings visible, rational consequences. According to example of Protestantism - its ethic resulted in the blossom of specific economically-oriented social activism - capitalism.

5 It is needed to be add, that Weber did not deny that capitalism could had been developed in other parts of world and so other religious systems could had influenced it, but implemented Protestant ethic was major factor of creating capitalism in modern sense. See: Krasnodebski, Z. 1999.

6 "Elective Affinity" is a term taken from chemistry that means mutual affection of at least two phenomena influencing one each other in unpredictable way [Ray 1989, p. 174]. As an example, usually is presented "alleged affinity between Calvinism and capitalism that while decisive for human development was the accidental confluence of two quite different processes - the emergence of commercialism and the Reformation" [Ray 1989, p.


7 Weber interprets 'social action' as "behaviuor to which subjective meaning is attached. It takes account of others and is thereby oriented in its course. Action is social when directed to the behaviour of others meaningfully (Weber [1913] 1987:4)" [Ray 1999, p. 168]. The aim of sociology as the science was to understand (verstehen) and interpret social actions.

8 Weber divided social actions into 4 types: (1) traditional action, (2) affective (or emotional) action, (3) value-oriented action, (4) goal-related action (Weber 2002), but anyway, "we can understand (verstehen) human social action by penetrating to the subjective meanings that actors attach to their own behavior and to the behavior of others" [Ray 1999, p. 167].

In the light of "elective affinity" [Ray 1999, p. 174]6 we can see, that religion was not only the set of symbols that brings specific meaning, creates the rituals consisted as the source of change influencing human development, the but religion was also interpreted as the mechanism creating rational patterns of human activity, specially on economical field. In this point, Weber's religiously-oriented perspective finds connection with his methodological work - in the social action. The social action, opposite to simple, impulsive and naturally-based human behavior, is deeply rational: is based on rational motives, and is always socially-(humanly-) oriented7. In result, in his view, the purpose of sociology -value-related and value-relative science [Ray 1999, p. 167] - was explicitly warded in the concept of verstehen8.

The concept of understanding then, in social science is also a crucial element for disputes on religion in Weber's works, when we do realize that protestant (puritan) ethics brought about rationality which then became a central attribute of modernity. Rationalism - inevitable step in developing process of modern societies, caused it transformation into bureaucracy - an ideal state of society - and was called by Max Weber as an "iron cage". This term then was interpreted into two dimensions: as a state of mind and the shape of human activity. Rationalism in future perspective, resulted in "the disenchantment" of the world and was understood as "a loss of meaning in modern societies with the decline of integrated worldviews that in the past had been provided by religious and philosophical systems" [Ray 1999, p. 164]. But simultaneously, rationalism was the category and mechanism that brought back human religious activity. It was Protestantism indeed in which context its basic values became driving forces of capitalism - genuinely rational thinking.

In this context, let us capture one more conclusion that can be, unexpectedly, revealed from Max Weber work. Since we agree with L. J. Ray who makes Weber's approach to Protestantism more precise, in words


"In order to understand the thesis in the context of Weber's work one should see it as only one part of his account of the development of capitalism, which was complex and multidimensional (.)",

and adds that:

"His account of the origin of capitalism referred to a complex interaction of social, economic and cultural factors, while the Protestant Ethic essays had the more limited objective of explaining the origin, not of capitalism per se, but the spirit of rational accumulation" [Ray 1999,

p. 175],

should not we assume that religious values - presented in Weber's works - can drive into the self-dismissal? The response should be negative and opposite. "Rationalization", Ray explains, is "originated in the decline of magic and taboo, which give way to the norms according to which certain actions were constructed as religious abomination" [Ray 1999, p. 186]. But abomination of religious activity that confirmed magical inconceivable order.

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4. Max Weber's approach - religion as a cultural pattern:

  1. 2. Among general similarities between Durkheim's and Weber's scientific perspectives
  2. 3. Religious "rethinking of individual"2 - Emile Durkheim approach
  3. 4. Conclusions
  4. U. Glinska Bialystok University of Technology, Bialystok, Poland
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