The rationalization of action in Max Weber's sociology of religion

Sociological Theory 8 (1):58-84 (1990)
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An analysis of the manner in which believers' "relations to the supernatural" influence and even rationalize their action is central to Weber's sociology as a whole as well as his analysis of the development of modern capitalism and to his sociology of religion. Yet Weber never systematically presents the highly differentiated analytic course followed by the "rationalization of action" in the life-sphere of religion to the "methodical rational way of life." This study reconstructs this meandering route. In doing so, it emphasizes the ways in which action, according to Weber, is altered as believers alter their mode of interacting with the supernatural. A sharp distinction between the merely cognitive and ideational influence upon action of "world views" and the influence of "salvation paths" is held to throughout. Because they place "psychological premiums" upon action, the latter are seen to be of far greater importance for the rationalization of action. Most salvation paths, however, and despite the explanations they offer for injustice, fail to introduce the enduring "religious mood" and to rationalize action radically. Those few salvation paths that do so articulate an acute tension between the world view and human suffering, yet "virtuoso religious qualifications" must also be present if the methodical rational way of life is to arise. Throughout, the analyses by Tenbruck, Schluchter, and Habermas are critiqued as incomplete and misleading



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