Academic Programs 

Max Weber: Understanding Religion and the World (RS-652)
Summer 2007

Max Weber has always been recognized as a “founding father” of the field of the social scientific study of religion. However, in the 1970's his methodology and insights went out of fashion. In recent decades there has been a growing appreciation of the relevance of Weber's historical analysis of religion as well as his methodological approach to the study of religion. Using Weber's more well known writings, this course will explore the causal role of religion in the birth of modern, disenchanted culture and then the possible contributions that religion can make to remedying some of the debilitating aspects of that culture.


Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 
Monday, June 4 – Friday, June 8 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Basit Koshul
Adjunct Professor of Religion and Society and author of “The Post-Modern Significance of Max Weber’s Legacy”

Contact Information:
(860) 509-9500


Course Syllabus


Course Description: It is widely assumed that modern secular culture emerged as a result of a historical break or rupture with traditional religious culture. It is also widely assumed that if religion has any place in the modern world it is limited largely (maybe even exclusively) to the private and personal sphere. Max Weber’s inquiry into religion and the emergence of modern culture suggests a very different relationship between the modern secularity and the traditional religion. For Weber modern secular culture is not the result of a break with traditional religious culture but rather the result of a particular interpretation of the religious. He goes so far as to note that the “disenchantment of the world” that characterizes secular modernity is the actualization of a latent potential within religion (especially Abrahamic religion.) He identifies modern science as the most important factor that has led to the disenchantment of the world. At the same time Weber explicitly states that science cannot answer the most pressing questions that face all human beings (as individuals and as societies) nor can it find any meaning in the universe (including the meaning of/for human existence). Weber’s awareness of the limitations of modern science (as well as economics, politics, art, etc.) suggests that a different role can be imagined for religion in the modern world than merely a private one. Using some of Weber's more well known writings, this course will; a) describe the causal role of religion in the birth of modern, disenchanted culture and b) explore the contributions that religion can make to disenchanting disenchantment and thereby making meaning meaningful in the post-traditional world.


The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (translated by Stephen Kalberg)
From Max Weber (edited by Gerth and Mills)
Max Weber: An Intellectual Biography by Fritz Ringer

Course Outline:

The bullet points identify those questions/issues that will be our points of entry into the reading for the day. In order for the class period to be productive and enriching for all participants (including the instructor) it is essential that everyone in the room has done the assigned reading and is prepared to discuss (at least) the bullet points. It is obvious that deeper engagement with the text requires going beyond the pointers identified below. The deeper engagement will be determined by questions/issues that emerge in class during the discussion.

Monday June 4th
“Science as a Vocation” in From Max Weber pp. 129-156

• What is science?
• What is religion?
• What are the similarities between the two?
• What are the differences?
• What impact has science had on shaping the defining characteristic of the modern world (i.e. disenchantment)?
• What contribution can science make to remedying the malaise that disenchantment gives rise to?

Tuesday June 5th
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism pp. 3-101

• Is capitalism a uniquely Western phenomenon?
• What is the “spirit” of capitalism?
• What have been the primary obstacles to the emergence of the “spirit” of capitalism?
• What contribution does Lutheran theology make to the overcoming of these obstacles?
• What contribution does Calvinist theology make to the overcoming of these obstacles?

Wednesday June 6th
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism pp. 103-164

• What is the relationship between asceticism and the “spirit” of capitalism?
• What happens to capitalism once it is divorced from its religious roots?
• What is the relationship between the religious sect and the civic voluntary organization? What is the primary social function that they played in society?
• What are the unique characteristics of modern Western civilization that set it apart from other civilizations?

Thursday June 7th
“Religious Rejections of the World and their Directions” in From Max Weber pp. 323-359

• What are the different spheres of culture?
• What is the primary challenge that each of these spheres poses to religion?
• What are the different religious responses to the challenges posed by the “world”?

Friday June 8th
“Social Psychology of World Religions” in From Max Weber pp. 267-301.

• Describe the different ways that “suffering” has been understood during the course of religious history.
• What are the different understandings of “salvation” in the different religious traditions?
• What different elements are involved in the shaping the understanding of “salvation” for a particular person/group?
• What is the relationship between the understanding of “salvation” and the “economic ethic”?

Note: Reading Weber’s own writing in conjunction with Ringer’s book might make the encounter with Weber’s ideas less daunting. Ringer’s exposition of Weber’s work is not only faithful, it is also lucid. Chapters 1,4,5, and the conclusion in Ringer’s book are especially relevant to the Weber that we will be discussing in class.

Course Evaluation:

Attendance    10%
Book Review of Max Weber: An Intellectual Biography by Fritz Ringer    25%
Final Paper (10-15 pp.)     65%

The book review and the final paper should be turned in by August 15th. You can e-mail both assignments to me as MS Word attachments:

Hartford Seminary  77 Sherman Street  Hartford, CT  06105   860-509-9500