A Weberian sociology of religion aims to understand religious action from the subjective meaning relationally and also categorically. Whereas Durkheim viewed religious beliefs as a useful function and connection to society, Weber’s sociology was focused on exploring the shift from traditional to rational action that accounts for modern society. Primitive religions, from Weber’s point of view, acted as a barrier towards the raise of rationality, which plays a key role in the advancement of society.
Religion has the power to influence its ideas on areas seemingly unrelated to its theological principles, such as the creation of economic institutions. From Weber’s famous work, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, we come to see Weber’s belief that the rationalization of action can only be understood when traditional ways of life are neglected. The “spirit of Capitalism” is the force that developed in Western cultures that brought people to abandon their traditional values leading to the development of desires for attaining wealth and material goods.
Calvinism is a form of innerworldly asceticism that promotes salvation by having followers rationally applying themselves to their work. As a religion based on predestination, followers believed that no amount of good works or acts of faith can assure a place in heaven as a group of “elites” are already pre-selected by God. Followers of Calvin saw wealth as a sign of being among God’s elect group, thus leading to the creation of religious sanctions that cultivated a spirit of hard work, encouraging followers to apply themselves rationally to gain prosperity.
It is this rationalized religious belief that played a key factor in the rationalization of modern economic lifestyle of capitalism, although Weber viewed capitalism only as an unanticipated consequence to the Protestant ethic (Ritzer, 149). Emile Durkheim viewed society as an objective reality that constrains us, while Weber believed that it is the individual that is real. As “reductionists”, Weberians reduce society to individuals, perceiving society as only an idea.
Weber saw religious beliefs as a way to social change. Along with his study of charisma, Weber saw religion as a radical force for change, developed as a drive for control that affects all of society. It can create broader social values and be instrumental in the creation of social institutions completely unrelated to its own goals and ends. Religion is a subjective experience which cannot be clearly defined as cultural and structural aspects affect how each experience is felt and understood.
Taken from a modern perspective, Weber sees faith being replaced by reason, where our world is now characterized by rationalization and bureaucracy. Our world is demystified and disenchanted; it is cold and has become the “iron cage”. The then contemporary of both Durkheim and Weber was symbolized by the emergence of the Enlightenment which instructed individuals to appraise each others’ balance towards the world of the divine with that of rationality.
The world of Christianity has multiplied and in the place of simple Christian faith emerges a whole new school of thought. Religion is no longer just a belief but is now a lifestyle, a discipline, and a social class. As sociologists and religious leaders struggle to obtain an agreeable model between God and society, common individuals are themselves creating their own conceptualization and adaptation, making this field diverse and open to judgment.
Nevertheless, regardless of how “sacred” or “profane” religion has become in the world today, it is obvious that more people are sheltering under religion after unconceivable events like Nine-Eleven. The disappearance of positive headlines in news reports has created a sense of anomie and even nihilism in the world today. Although more people now are turning to religion then ever before, the purpose no longer seems to be for salvation after life but salvation from living.
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