Sunday, July 19, 2015

A source of social action: Max Weber

Max Weber (1864-1920) was a German sociologist and academic and a deeply educated and cultured man. He is a man that was forced out of academia where he had a natural fit and who by becoming a private scholar and writer studied deeply the nature of humanity in a social science context. For him individuals are complex and ever evolving and so is society and his theories are just as complex and evolving.
I was excited to read about the principles he set forth: verstehen, ideal types and values. From the influential thinkers we talked about so far Weber to me seems the most interesting because he embraces the human complexity. I find that so far we have been talking about reductionist and simplification when I myself observe the glory of human complexity with excitement. I like that Weber is not satisfied with presenting one theory and then trying to fit the world into his theory, rather he observes the complexity that the world has to offer and he then synthesizes an analysis based on this observation. Individuals create their own values for Weber and no “cosmic warrants apply” and in that sense he leaves individuals free to decide their own fate and ideals, in his “value-free” analysis of the world (whether he himself was able to apply this value free approach is a subject for debate).
His most important work “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” (1904-1905) presents that famous Weber thesis, namely that there is a “close connection between religion, the rise of economic capitalism and the birth of modern civilization in Western Europe”. His thesis has been debated often and is still debated today.

His writing “Sociology of Religion” that was completed by 1914 but was published posthumously as a chapter in “Economy and Society” is centered on four areas of debate: the role of religious leaders, the influence of social classes and groups, the forms of religious beliefs and behaviors, and the interaction of religion with other aspects of social life. Weber, one of the founding fathers of sociology is one of those responsible for turning the focus of sociology towards the sociology of religion. 

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