The Social Thought of Max Weber


Stephen Kalberg

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    And why then did capitalist interests not call forth this stratum of jurists and this type of law in China or India? How did it happen that scientific, artistic, and economic development, as well as state-building, were not directed in China and India into those tracks of rationalization specific to the West? (Weber, 2011, p. 245; emphasis in original)

    The origin of economic rationalism depends not only on an advanced development of technology and law but also on the capacity and disposition of persons to organize their lives in a practical-rational manner. Wherever magical and religious forces have inhibited the unfolding of this organized life, the development of an organized life oriented systematically toward economic activity has confronted broad-ranging internal resistance. (Weber, 2011, p. 246; emphasis in original)

    Behind the [varieties of belief was] a stand regarding something in the actual world which was experienced as specifically “senseless.” Thus, the demand has been implied that the world order in its totality is, could, and should somehow be a meaningful “cosmos.” (Weber, 2011, p. 242)

    [Weber] revealed to us things we had not seen before in such contexts. What he elucidated, what he left to us as his legacy, has today become part and parcel of our political, social, and scientific thinking to a far greater extent than we ourselves could possibly have realized half a century ago. (Loewenstein, 1966, p. 104)

    Series Editor’s Foreword

    The SAGE Social Thinkers series is dedicated to making available compact, reader-friendly paperbacks that examine the thought of major figures from within and beyond sociology. The books in this series provide concise introductions to the work, life, and influences of the most prominent social thinkers. Written in accessible and provocative prose, these books are designed for advanced undergraduate and graduate students of sociology, politics, economics, and social philosophy, as well as for scholars and socially curious general readers.

    The first few volumes in the series are devoted to the “classical” thinkers—Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Georg Simmel, George Hebert Mead, Talcott Parsons, and C. Wright Mills—who, through their seminal writings, laid the foundation for much of current social thought. Subsequent books will feature more “contemporary” scholars as well as those not yet adequately represented in the canon: Jane Addams, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Harold Garfinkel, Norbert Elias, Jean Baudrillard, and Pierre Bourdieu. Particular attention is paid to those aspects of the social thinker’s personal background and intellectual influences that most impacted his or her approach in better understanding individuals and society.

    Consistent with SAGE’s distinguished track record of publishing high-quality textbooks in sociology, the carefully assembled volumes in the Social Thinkers series are authored by respected scholars committed to disseminating the discipline’s rich heritage of social thought and to helping students comprehend key concepts. The information offered in these books will be invaluable for making sense of the complexities of contemporary social life and various issues that have become central concerns of the human condition: inequality, social order, social control, deviance, the social self, rationality, reflexivity, and so on.

    These books in the series can be used as self-contained volumes or in conjunction with textbooks in sociological theory. Each volume concludes with a Further Readings chapter intended to facilitate additional study and research. As a collection, the Social Thinkers series will stand as a testament to the robustness of contemporary social thought. Our hope is that these books on the great social thinkers will give students a deeper understanding of modern and postmodern Western social thought and encourage them to engage in sociological dialogue.

    Premised on Newton’s aphorism, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” (an aphorism, incidentally, that was introduced into sociology by Robert K. Merton, himself a towering figure in the discipline), the Social Thinkers series aims to place its readers on the shoulders of the giants of 19th- and 20th-century social thought.


    When this volume began is not easy to say. Perhaps its gestation occurred long ago when students in the United States were protesting against the anonymity and power characteristic of modern-day bureaucracies. Weber’s insightful essay on the nature of these large organizations became widely read. Or perhaps this study originated from a reading of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in the 1970s. Weber’s message struck a chord: Sociology’s task also involves investigation of how world views and values influence our activities. Or perhaps decisive were his masterful insights on the multiple ways in which the past clandestinely – or overtly – intrudes into the present. Or perhaps this volume developed from the strong impression left by the last chapter of Weber’s Religion of China; vividly portrayed here are the ways in which the values taught by Confucius are different from those held by seventeenth-century Puritans in the West. Or, finally, perhaps at the source of this study are the questions my students formulated in my first classical sociological theory seminar. They have challenged me over many years to render Weber’s often obtuse writings in an understandable manner.

    I am deeply indebted to Robert J. Antonio, Hinnerk Bruhns, Donald Nielsen, and Javier Trevino for their insightful and helpful comments upon this volume’s early drafts. I am especially thankful to Javier, as the “Sage Social Thought” series editor, for inviting me to write this volume.

    Several publishers have graciously provided permission to re-publish material in this volume. They are acknowledged now with gratitude:

    Oxford Publishing Limited:

    FROM MAX WEBER translated by H. H. Gerth & C. Wright Mills (1946): “Politics as a Vocation,” pp. 95, 114–17, 120–8; “Science as a Vocation,” pp. 145–53 © 1946, 1958, 1973 by Gerth and Mills.

    Oxford University Press:

    Extract (c.14400w) from Part 4, pp. 319–348. ‘Introduction’ from “Max Weber: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism with Other Writings on the Rise of the West.” Translated and edited by Stephen Kalberg (2009).

    American Sociological Association:

    Kalberg, Stephen. “On the Neglect of Weber’s Protestant Ethic as a Theoretical Treatise: Demarcating the Parameters of Postwar American Sociological Theory.” Sociological Theory, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Mar., 1996), p. 63.

    John Wiley & Sons:

    Max Weber: Readings and Commentary on Modernity. Edited by Stephen Kalberg. Wiley-Blackwell: February 2005. Pp. xv–xix.

    Kalberg, Stephen. “Max Weber.” The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Major Social Theorists: Classical Social Theorists, Volume I. Eds. George Ritzer and Jeffrey Stepnisky. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Pp. 330–345


    To the memory of my teacher, Lewis A. Coser

  • Glossary

    This list includes (a) historical terms used by Weber that are often forgotten today and (b) terms that are key to his sociology. Italics indicate a cross-reference to another Glossary entry.

    Adventure Capitalism.

    This type of capitalism has appeared universally. Since the dawn of history, entrepreneurs and speculators have financed wars, piracy, construction projects, shipping, plantations using forced labor, political parties, and mercenaries. These money-making enterprises are of a purely speculative nature and often involve wars and violent activities. Loans of every sort are offered. See capitalism and modern capitalism.

    Affectual Action.

    One of Weber’s Four Types of Social (Meaningful) Action. “Determined by the actor’s specific affects and feeling states.” See means-end rational action, value-rational action, and traditional action.

    Affinity (elective, internal; Wahlverwandtschaft).

    A concept taken from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). It implies an “internal” connection between two different phenomena rooted in a shared feature and/or a clear historical linkage (for example, between certain religious beliefs and a vocational calling). The causal relationship is not strong enough to be designated “determining.”

    Ascetic Protestantism (see Puritanism; this-worldly).

    This generic term refers to the Calvinist, Pietist, Methodist, Quaker, Baptist, and Mennonite churches and sects. Weber compares and contrasts the vocational calling of these faiths to each other and to those of Lutheran Protestantism and Catholicism. See asceticism.


    An extreme taming, channeling, sublimating, and organizing of the believer’s spontaneous human drives and wants (the status naturae) by a set of values. Western asceticism charted a methodical-rational organization of life in two “directions”: ascetic Protestantism did so in the world (this-worldly asceticism) and medieval Catholic monks, living sequestered in monasteries, did so outside the world (other-worldly asceticism).

    Associations (civic, social, voluntary; Vereine).

    Whereas Alexis deTocqueville saw the origins of American society’s “innumerable” civic associations throughout American society in the “commercial passions,” Weber locates their origin in Puritanism. These associations constitute to him secularized versions of the sect.


    Possessing an independent authority. In contrast to groups under the power of an external rulership (see heterocephalous).


    The cohesive highest caste in India. These priests were the carriers of Hinduism.

    Brotherhood and Compassion, Sociology of.

    Weber views each of the world religions as introducing, in different ways, a sociology of brotherhood and compassion. Variation occurs largely in reference to whether—and to what extent—psychological premiums are placed exclusively on elites (the virtuosi) or also on the laity. He foresees a weakening of brotherhood and compassion in the modern West amid modern capitalism, bureaucratization, logical-formal law, and a resurgence of the formal and practical types of rationality.

    Bureaucratic (rational-legal) Rulership.

    Authority resides in a position in an organization and the rights it grants to incumbents rather than in persons or traditions. Hence, obedience to this rulership rests on belief in the appropriate procedural enactment of impersonal statutes and regulations. Attached to “the office,” rulership remains even though people come and go. Historically unusual, this type of rulership has largely been found in the West in the past 150 years.


    As industrial societies develop, Weber foresees a continuous expansion of large-scale organizations. He fears, in the process, the awarding of high social prestige to specialists (the bureaucracy’s functionaries), the ascent of the specialist in general over “the cultivated”—or broadly educated—person, and a macro centralization of political power that will effectively preclude viable pluralistic conflict and democratization.


    A secular ruler dominates over the realm of religion and constitutes its highest authority. The opposite of hierocratic rulership.

    Calling (Beruf).

    Denotes a task given by God to the believer and the incorporation of a demarcated realm of work into the lives of the Protestant faithful in the 16th and 17th centuries. Despite a vast comparative-historical search in the EEWR volumes, Weber found this vocational calling only in Protestantism.


    Founded by John Calvin (1509–1564), who formulated the Predestination doctrine, this version of Protestantism established a series of “Reformed” churches and sects rooted in this doctrine. These believers struggled intensely with the fatalism and despair that followed from the doctrine of Predestination.


    Capitalism has existed in all the world’s civilizations and in all epochs, according to Weber. It involves the expectation of profit and peaceful opportunities for acquisition. A calculation of earnings in monetary terms occurs at the beginning (starting balance) and end of the project (concluding balance), and in respect to the utility of all potential transactions. The origins of profits and losses are ascertained in a systematic manner. See adventure capitalism and modern capitalism.


    See social carriers.

    Caste Order.

    In India. Persons are born into a specific caste and die in this caste. Mobility up or down is not possible. If caste dharma is fulfilled, a favorable (upward) rebirth occurs; if not, a rebirth into a lower caste or animal form takes place.

    Charismatic Rulership.

    Obedience results from a consideration by “followers” or “disciples” of an individual as endowed with extraordinary, exceptional, and perhaps supernatural features. This type of rulership opposes all existing values, customs, laws, rules, and traditions.

    Chinese Rationalism.

    A specific configuration of societal domains and historical developments. See civilizational rationalism. In its classical and enduring form, Chinese rationalism was dominated by the literati stratum, patrimonial-bureaucratic rulership, patrimonial law, Confucianism, an agrarian and clan-based economy, and strong families oriented to Confucianism and ancestor worship. This rationalism largely opposed the development and expansion of modern capitalism. Weber views the identification of China’s unique rationalism as the first step toward the isolation of the causes behind its origin and development.


    Persons are “born into” a church and, hence, are obligatory members. Unlike sects, churches “lets grace shine over the righteous and unrighteous alike.”

    Civic Association.

    Prominent in the American 19th century as community service organizations (for example, the Rotary, Lions, and Kiwanis clubs). Secular legacies of the 18th-century Protestant sects cast their influence broadly. As in these groups, membership, which resulted from a favorable vote, conferred status and respectability. Their widespread proliferation led Weber to reject the view of American society common in Europe: as a sandpile of unconnected individuals.

    Civic Individualism (practical-ethical individualism).

    A 19th-century legacy of Puritanism. Implies an orientation by Americans to a set of universal values located in a civic sphere. These values are understood to be ethical—that is, they set standards and ideals in reference to which persons feel an internal obligation. Hence, civic individualism involves a posture of activism in reference to a community’s values. Weber sees this type of individualism as threatened in the 20th century by practical rationality, formal rationality, and bureaucratization.

    Civic Sphere.

    A set of values separate from the private realm and the work sphere that set community standards toward which citizens are sincerely committed as ethical ideals. Distinct from the public sphere.

    Civilizational Rationalism.

    To Weber, each civilization constitutes a differently formed and unique “rationalism.” This term implies a value constellation endowed with a significant degree of internal coherence. It is formed mainly from singular configurations of the rulership, law, religion, economy, social honor, and universal organizations societal domains juxtaposed unique with historical developments. Ideal types assist identification of each rationalism’s major contours. Some rationalisms erect a context of groups conducive to modern capitalism; others oppose its development. An amenable rationalism must crystallize if this type of capitalism is significantly to appear.

    The Clan (Sippe).

    The extended family. Belongs, according to Weber’s conceptual ordering (along with the family) to the universal organizations domain. Strong personal relationships of allegiance, compassion, and helpfulness are pivotal.

    Clan Charisma.

    Exceptional, even supernatural, qualities are attributed not to a single person (such as a prophet) but to a group of related persons. This group shares a blood bond.


    Interaction is possible among persons as a consequence of a similar social status.


    Weber rejects organic holism in favor of a methodology that places subjective meaning, ideal types, and societal domains at its foundation. This “lens” renders conflict highly visible. Moreover, he views values, interests, traditions, and charismatic leaders as very frequently standing in “relations of antagonism.” Finally, carrier groups (strata, classes, and organizations) often oppose one another. Hence, conflict occurs regularly and broadly in Weber’s analyses.

    Confraternization (fraternization).

    Peaceful association of persons across groups with firm boundaries (whether familial, tribal, ethnic, or religious). A greater confraternization occurred in the cities of the Western Middle Ages. In this regard, guilds and religious congregations proved pivotal.

    Deification of Human Desires (idolatry).

    The Puritan’s loyalty must be exclusively to God and His Commandments. For Him, human wants and desires (personal vanity, sexual fulfillment, the enjoyment of love, friendship, luxury, etc.) must be tamed and remain subordinate to this noble and prior allegiance.


    In India. The Hindu’s caste-specific obligations and rituals.

    Disenchantment of the World (Entzauberung; demagification).

    This famous phrase from Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805) refers, for Weber, on the one hand to a development within the domain of religion from ritual and magic to “other-worldly salvation religions.” Here paths to salvation completely devoid of magic designate proper ethical conduct (see Puritanism). On the other hand this expression refers to a broad historical development in the West according to which knowledge of the universe is less and less understood by reference to supernatural forces and salvation doctrines, and more and more comprehended by reference to empirical observation and the experimental method of the natural sciences.

    Dispassionate (nüchtern).

    A term Weber uses repeatedly to characterize the temperate and restrained frame of mind of Puritans. This disposition implies rigorous self-control and a capacity to organize life systematically around defined goals.


    See Rulership.

    Economic Ethic (Wirtschaftsethik; work ethic, work ethos).

    See economic traditionalism and modern economic ethic.

    Economic Ethics of the World Religions.

    This is the title Weber gave to a series of studies on the world’s great religions (1951, 1952, 1958). These investigations evaluate the presence or absence of economic ethics in Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, ancient Judaism, and early and medieval Christianity. Unlike The Protestant Ethic volume, they address “both sides” of the causal nexus: “world and religion.

    Economic Form.

    In contrast to an economic ethic, an economic form refers to the way in which a company is organized and managed, the relationship of employers to workers, the type of accounting, the movement of capital, and so on.

    Economic Rationalism.

    This term refers to the modern capitalism that developed in the 18th and 19th centuries in the West. It implies a modern economic ethic and the utilization of modern science on behalf of a systematic organization of labor and the entire production process. Hence, qualitative increases in productive capacity occur.

    Economic Traditionalism (traditional economic ethic).

    A frame of mind in respect to work. Work is viewed as a necessary evil and only one arena of life, no more important than the arenas of leisure, family, and friends. “Traditional needs” are implied: work ceases when they are fulfilled. This frame of mind stands in opposition to the development of modern capitalism. (“Traditionalism,” in Weber’s time, referred to the conduct of activities in an accustomed, habitual fashion.)

    The Elect. The predestined

    and those who have convinced themselves that they belong among the predestined.

    Elective Affinity.

    See Affinity.

    Enjoyment of Life (eudaemonistic view of life).

    The methodical-rational organization of life by Puritans and their disciplined orientation to work, when examined from the vantage point of every enjoyment of life, is irrational, Weber stresses.

    Ethic of Conviction(Gesinnungsethik).

    Adherence to an ethical position in an absolute manner; that is, regardless of the possible negative consequences that might result from doing so. (Luther: “Here I stand, for I can do no other.”) Good intent alone is central. Opposes the ethic of responsibility.

    Ethic of Responsibility (Verantwortungsethik).

    An account is given to oneself of the foreseeable results of an action, and responsibility for them is accepted. Action is abandoned if assessment of its outcome reveals negative consequences. Opposed to an ethic of conviction.

    Ethical Action.

    This action, rooted in values and involving an obligatory element viewed as an ideal, contains the potential to direct action. To Weber, an ethical standard is upheld and treated as a valid norm when persons believe in it and attribute validity to it. They then seek, in their own conduct, to act in a manner consistent with this standard. The “ethically correct” is then defined. Weber sees ethical action as weakened and circumscribed in the modern era to the extent that practical and formal rationality expand.

    Ethical Neutrality.

    This term refers to the lecturer’s classroom standards. Material must be presented in a fair, impartial, and balanced manner. Political and polemical statements are not allowed in the classroom.

    Ethnic Group.

    Weber contends that this concept is of little utility to a social science that seeks to explain how social action arises and becomes patterned in a manner that groups are formed. He views ethnicity as salient to the sociologist only when patterned action and groups form contexts that highlight ethnicity. He counsels caution and circumspection. See race.

    Flight from the World (Weltflucht).

    The Buddhist monk attempts, through rigorous meditation and by avoiding all ties “to the world,” to silence the soul and to merge, in an acosmic unity, with his impersonal God. Considered irrational from the point of view of all world-mastery striving.

    Formal Rationality.

    Omnipresent in modern capitalism, logical-formal law, bureaucratic rulership, and the modern state, this type of rationality implies decision making “without regard to persons”; that is, exclusively by reference to sets of universally applied rules, laws, statutes, and regulations.

    Four Types of Social (meaningful) action.

    The foundational typology of action in Weber’s sociology. He sees four types of social action: means-end rational, value-rational, traditional, and affectual action. Synonym: meaningful action.

    Frame of Mind (Gesinnung).

    As captured by an ideal type, the singular temperament or disposition that Weber sees as specific to a demarcated group of people. He uses this term to refer to characteristic features of Calvinists, Catholics, Lutherans, adventure capitalists, feudal aristocrats, old family (patrician) financial magnates, persons in the middle class, and so on. The frame of mind in some groups may be more weighted toward values; in others it tends more toward endowing interests (adventure capitalists) or traditions rooted in conventions and customs (peasants) with greater meaning.


    See confraternization.


    A community, generally small in size, where persons are intensely oriented to each other on the basis of emotions, traditions, and shared values rather than economic or political interests.

    “Grinding Mechanism.”

    See steel-hard casing.


    Entities subordinate to an external rulership. In contrast to autocephalous.


    A civilization’s minor stream religion (for example, Daoism in China and Jainism in India). Opposed to orthodox.

    Hierocracy (hierocratic rulership).

    The ecclesiastical power here penetrates into bureaucratic organizations. If a developed dogma and educational system rooted in religious doctrine is typical, this type of organization can be altered only under extreme circumstances. Its power rests on the principle that “God must be obeyed more than men.” The hierocracy proves effective as a check against political power; indeed, secular rules and laws must be legitimated by priests. Caesaropapism contrasts directly.

    “Hold Your Own.”

    Ascetic Protestant believers, even in sects that monitor strictly their behavior, are still responsible directly to God. Individuals must testify through conduct to their own salvation. Despite temptation, the devout must “hold their own” in respect to His commandments.


    With the development of the economy, only the wealthy (landowners, patrician merchants) will possess the time and resources to fulfill local and regional administrative tasks. Thus, direct democracy will likely turn into rule by these “notables.” The functionary in a bureaucracy generally carries out tasks in a manner technically superior (speed, precision, knowledge of the files, etc.) to the avocational and honorific service of honoratiores.

    Ideal Type.

    Weber’s major methodological tool. He creates in PE, for example, ideal types for an array of groups (Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, adventure capitalists, etc.). Each concept, by accentuating that which is characteristic from the point of view of a theme Weber has chosen and defined, seeks to capture that which is essential to a group.

    Impersonal (abstract) Relationships.

    Weber sees such relationships, which are found in modern capitalism (for example, the relationship between mortgage holders and banks), bureaucratic rulership, and logical-formal law, as incapable—because lacking a personal element—of being regulated ethically.

    Indian Rationalism.

    A specific configuration of societal domains and historical developments. In its classical and enduring form, it was dominated by Brahmin priests, feudal rulership, traditional law, Hinduism, caste-based stratification, an agrarian economy, and “organic traditionalism.” This civilizational rationalism failed to facilitate the development and expansion of modern capitalism. Weber views the identification of India’s unique rationalism as the first step toward the isolation of the causes behind its origin and development.

    Individual Autonomy.

    Weber is worried that, in a modern world in which modern capitalism, logical-formal law, and bureaucratic organizations characterized by rigid hierarchies, specialized tasks, conformist pressures, and routine work dominate, individual autonomy and ethical responsibility will be eroded.


    All groups possess “ideal and material interests.”

    Interpretive Understanding (verstehen).

    This is the term Weber uses to describe his own methodology. He wishes to understand the patterned actions of people in demarcated groups by reconstructing the milieu of values, traditions, interests, and emotions within which they live. He thereby fulfills a major goal: to comprehend how subjective meaning is formed.

    Legacy (Vermächtnis, Überbleibsel, Reste).

    Weber argues that groups formed in the past—and at times the distant past—often influence the present, especially if strong and favoring social carriers for them congeal. Such influences are referred to as legacies.


    Weber sees a great social leveling as occurring wherever the traditional types of rulership with pronounced hierarchies (patrimonialism and feudalism) are replaced by bureaucratic rulership.

    Life-sphere (Lebenssphäre).

    See Societal Domain.

    The Literati (Mandarins).

    The cultural and political elite in China. Highly educated in the writings of Confucius. The administrators of provinces and the “carriers of Chinese culture.”

    Logical-Formal Law (modern law).

    Characterized by formal-legal equality and a rootedness in documents (such as a Constitution) and judicial precedent rather than sacred traditions, charismatic persons, or a theocratic state, logical-formal law is enacted and implemented impartially by specialists (legislators, judges). The impersonal execution of laws, by reference to systematic and universally applied procedures, is taken as an ideal.

    The Lutheran Economic Ethic.

    Although Protestant and although Luther developed the notion of a vocational calling, Lutheranism never developed asceticism. Weber sees this economic ethic as remaining traditional.

    Market-Irrational Substantive Rationality.

    Arises wherever groups carry constellations of values antagonistic to the open market are significant.

    Meaningful Action.

    Synonymous with social action.

    Means-end Rational Action (zweckrational).

    One of Weber’s four types of social action. A calculation of interests is at the forefront, as are purely instrumental means on behalf of goals.

    Methodical-rational Organization of Life (methodisch-rationale Lebensführung).

    Extremely systematic conduct grounded by adherence to a set of broad-ranging values. See asceticism and organization of life.

    Middle Class (bürgerlich).

    PE offers an analysis of the religious origins of the ethos and frame of mind of a new class that placed steady work and the pursuit of profit at the center of life. Composed of both employers and workers, this middle class cultivated a set of values oriented to economic activity and “earning a living” that distinguished it significantly from the destitute urban poor, feudal nobles, patrician old-family capitalists, and adventure capitalists. This constellation of new values, Weber argues, played a role in calling forth modern capitalism.

    Modern Capitalism.

    Weber sees capitalism as universal. He is interested in the origins of modern capitalism as it appeared in the West in the 18th and 19th centuries. This capitalism involved the rational organization of free labor and the systematic pursuit of profit. He concludes that a Protestant ethic played a causal role in respect to the rise to modern capitalism.

    Modern Capitalism’s Substantive Conditions.

    To Weber, markets do not develop out of the “natural propensity” discovered by Adam Smith to “truck, barter, and exchange.” Rather, many “substantive conditions” must have developed beforehand, such as rational modes of accounting and administration, enacted law “rationally interpreted and applied” by jurists, the concept of the citizen, modern science and technology, a spirit of capitalism, the separation of the household from the industrial company, and the absence of strict market monopolies. In the West, modern Western rationalism provided a supportive and facilitating context.

    Modern Economic Ethic.

    Synonymous with spirit of capitalism.

    Modern Science.

    Unlike science in Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the 17th century in the West, modern science is unable to justify its own foundations, despite its state of high technological advancement. Hence, it remains incapable of answering Tolstoi’s question: “How should we live?” Fearing a further threat to the individual’s autonomy by yet another “caste of specialists,” now in the name of science, Weber wishes to limit its legitimate goals to insight, clarity, knowledge, and rigorous procedures.

    Modern Western Rationalism.

    The “rationalism” specific to the modern West. Through wide-ranging comparisons to the ancient and medieval civilizations of China, India, and the West, a further singular configuration of ideal types, societal domains, and historical developments is articulated. Modern capitalism, bureaucratic rulership, logical-formal law, modern science, and the state are central. Prominent also are the formal, practical, and theoretical types of rationality. This rationalism opposed traditional forms of law and rulership, the agrarian economy, and all anchoring of behavior in views of the supernatural realm and specific “salvation paths.” It formulated contexts of patterned action that proved conducive to the development and expansion of modern capitalism. Weber views the identification of the modern West’s unique features as the indispensable first step toward the isolation of the causes behind its origin and development.

    Mysticism, world-fleeing.

    Through meditation techniques, the mystic devout seek salvation through a merging into an immanent and impersonal acosmic Being. Hence, action in the world possesses no salvation meaning; rather, a “flight from the world” and a “silencing of the self” through withdrawal and meditation is required of this believer. Mainly Buddhist. This “salvation path” contrasts directly in Weber’s sociology to the this-worldly asceticism found among the Puritans.

    The Nation.

    An “entirely ambiguous” concept, according to Weber. Rejecting common language, religious creed, and “common blood” as definitive features of nations, he instead emphasizes a “sentiment of solidarity” rooted in values.

    National Character.

    Explanation of differences between groups by reference to national character was widespread in Weber’s time. Because it failed to acknowledge the influence of particular religious, economic, rulership, social honor groups and so on patterned, Weber rejected this mode of explanation.


    See honoratiores.


    Social scientists never approach empirical reality in an “objective” manner, Weber argues. Rather, they bring to it sets of questions and interests related to their values (value-relevant). Hence, every approach to “the data” is “perspectival”—all the more as every epoch defines in its own way, in accord with its predominant concerns and currents of thought, certain aspects of empirical reality as “culturally significant.” And even though new fashions, themes, and concerns render heretofore occluded aspects of social reality visible, other aspects, by the same token, always remain in the shadows. See value-freedom.

    Office Charisma.

    An exceptional, even supernatural quality is attributed to an organization’s office (bishop, cardinal). This occurs to such a degree that all office incumbents are perceived as possessing charisma.

    Organic Holism.

    The view that societies are constituted from arrays of components, all of which are ultimately conjoined in an interlocking and symbiotic—or “organic”—fashion. Thus, they stand in relationships of cohesion and even harmony. In stark contrast to Weber’s ideal types-based methodology and focus on societal domains rather than “society.” The latter approach more readily acknowledges conflict.

    Organization of Life (Lebensführung).

    This expression implies a conscious directing and leading of life. A systematic striving toward goals is also implied. Although for Weber the organized life is generally “internally” rooted in a set of values (even ethical values), this is not always the case (for example, interests anchor the “practical-rational” Lebensführung). This term contrasts in his writings to the undirected life that simply, like a natural event, flows on in time without guidance. Because Weber emphasizes in PE that Puritans must organize and direct their lives according to their beliefs and their quest for salvation, the phrase “organization of life” appears best to capture his meaning here. A synonym: organized life.


    A civilization’s mainstream religion. See heterodox.


    Dominated by extreme bureaucratization, ossified—or closed and stagnant—societies are ones in which social and political hierarchies become massive and rigid. Opposite of societal dynamism. Weber argues that highly stratified societies will not allow conflicts to surface over interests and values—and these are indispensable if political leadership, democracies, and a sense of ethical responsibility are to develop and endure. He fears that stagnant societies may be on the horizon in the West.


    Salvation-striving can be, Weber maintains, “toward” the world or “away from” the world. This striving in the latter case is described as other-worldly. The world, as the proving ground for activity believed by the devout to lead to salvation, is devalued. A flight from the world and its meaninglessness occurs for both “other-worldly ascetics” (monks in cloisters) and “other-worldly mystics” (Buddhists engaged in a silencing of the self through meditation). See mysticism.

    Other-worldly Asceticism.

    See asceticism and this-worldly.


    A “mixed” ideal type construct that combines elements of patrimonial rulership with elements of bureaucratic rulership. Found prominently in China, according to Weber.


    One of Weber’s “traditional” types of rulership. Rulers (monarchs) acquire hegemony over large territories and seek, through their “officials,” to administer them. They do so through personal relationships rather than through impersonal regulations, laws, and statutes. In these organizations, officials regularly abandon their loyalty to the ruler and contest his power and authority. Unless the ruler remains strong, tensions are inherent and tendencies toward decentralization and fragmentation are regular.

    Patterns of Action.

    Weber’s sociology is anchored not only in the subjective meaning of individuals, ideal types, societal domains, and interpretive understanding, but also in the patterns—or regularities—of social action of persons. As patterns become more regular, groups are formed. Each group, given facilitating contextual occurrences, becomes a carrier of values, interests, emotions, or traditions.


    In direct contrast to rulership, power implies to Weber sheer coercion, or “the likelihood that one person in a social relationship will be able, even despite resistance, to carry out his or her own will” (1968, p. 53; translation altered).

    Practical-Ethical Individualism.

    See civic individualism.

    Practical Rationality

    (practical rationalism; practical-rational individualism). The random flow of daily interests is here central, and the individual’s adaptation—through means-end rational calculations—to them. Directly contrasts to all substantive rationality, according to which the random flow of interests is confronted and ordered by groups carrying patterned orientations of action to values.

    Predestination (doctrine of).

    Prominent especially among Calvinists. God has willed a very few to be saved; the vast majority are condemned. His reasons are indecipherable and unknowable; no human activity can change a believer’s “predestination status.” The logical consequence of belief in this doctrine among the devout was fatalism and despair. Later revisions by theologians and ministers (Puritan Divines) gave birth to the Protestant ethic.

    The Protestant Ethic.

    The source of the spirit of capitalism in PE. Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-century interpretations of the Calvinist doctrine of Predestination by the Puritan Divines eventually allowed believers to convince themselves of their favorable salvation status if they successfully oriented their action to methodical work, economic competition, profit, and the attainment of wealth.

    Providential (to sanctify).

    Rendering with religious (salvation) significance an activity heretofore purely utilitarian (work and profit, for example).

    Psychological Motivations (Antriebe).

    Weber is concerned throughout PE with the motivation behind action, particularly action directed toward work, wealth, and profit as it originates—or doesn’t—from religious beliefs. The important psychological motivations behind religion-oriented action never derive, he argues, from the ethical conduct implied by salvation doctrines or that which is officially taught in manuals. Rather, central are the motivations that arise from combinations of belief and the regular practice of the religious life (as transmitted by the clergy to believers through pastoral care, church discipline, and preaching). See psychological rewards.

    Psychological Rewards or Premiums (psychologische Prämien).

    “Salvation premiums” are defined through belief and the practice of religion. They are awarded to particular activities, such as good works, the accumulation of wealth, and the organization of life in accord with God’s laws. They assist those among the faithful who perform these activities to convince themselves of their membership among the saved.

    Puritan Divines.

    These ministers and theologians in 17th-century England jointly revised John Calvin’s Predestination doctrine in ways that permitted believers to perceive certain “signs” of God’s favor (for example, a capacity to work intensely could be understood as God’s strength within, and great wealth could be viewed as coming from His hands)—and hence to conclude that they belonged among the saved (for God would convey these signs only to the elect few). These adjustments, which led to a focus among believers on methodical work and a systematic search for profit, gave birth to the Protestant ethic.


    (see ascetic Protestansism, this-worldly). Weber’s usage follows the everyday language of the 17th century. This “amorphous term” refers to the ascetic Protestant movements in Holland, England, and North America oriented toward this-worldly asceticism. All Puritans organized their lives around work and a this-worldly, morally rigorous, asceticism. Puritanism, Weber argues, provides the most consistent foundation for the idea of a vocational calling found in the Protestant ethic. Remarkably, because oriented to salvation in the next life rather than exclusively this-worldly goods or interests, the intense activity of Puritans must be understood as in the world but not of the world.


    Weber opposes the notion that reference to innate and inheritable qualities can be helpful in sociological analysis. “Racial theories” anchored in inherited instincts, he argues, are hypothetical and methodologically weak. Social action that appears to be oriented to race is, on closer inspection, Weber holds, actually a consequence of the juxtaposition of other (for example, economic, political, status groups patterns of social action). See ethnic group.


    A systematic, rigorous, disciplined element to action.


    See civilizational rationalism.

    Rationality (types of).

    See formal rationality, practical rationality, substantive rationality, and theoretical rationality.


    Weber is using this term in accord with the usage of his time. Implied is a systematizing of one’s actions that, in going beyond a utilitarian adaptation to the “random flow of life,” calls forth action in conformity with a constellation of values. This may even occur to the point of the introduction of a methodical-rational organization of life grounded in a comprehensive orientation to a constellation of values. Such extreme continuity of action proved stronger against the traditional economic ethic than utilitarian action. Ascetic Protestant believers rationalized their this-worldly activities in the most rigorous fashion.

    The Rationalization of Western Civilization.

    This expression implied to Weber a civilization in which systematic work, a modern economic ethic, cities characterized by the presence of autonomous governing units, logical-formal law, bureaucratic rulership, impersonal judiciary codes and civil servants to implement them, a modern bureaucratic state, modern science, advanced technology, and so on are prominent. It does not imply the “superiority” of the West.

    Rational-legal Rulership.

    See bureaucratic rulership.

    Religious Reward.

    See Psychological Rewards.


    The patterned action of persons in groups can be conceptualized, according to Weber, as moving across a four types of social action spectrum. Action oriented originally toward values that becomes calculating and exclusively means-end rational has become “routinized.”

    Routinization of Charisma.

    Charismatic figures (prophets, political leaders) act rigorously in reference to constellations of values, as do their immediate followers. However, their message loses in the next generations its intense orientation to values and may become oriented to a significant extent to political and economic interests alone, Weber argues. To this extent “routinization” occurs.

    Rulership, types of (Herrschaft).

    Often translated as “authority” or “domination.” Why do people obey commands? In contrast to sheer power, rulership implies to Weber that persons attribute, for a variety of reasons, legitimacy to commands and requests for obedience. Hence, a voluntary element is characteristic; that is, a belief that the rulership in the end is justified. Weber identifies three types of rulership: traditional (patriarchalism, feudalism, patrimonialism), charismatic, and rational-legal (bureaucratic).

    Salvation Doctrine.

    A religion’s formal prescriptions in respect to the question of salvation and the appropriate means for its attainment. However, Weber emphasizes that his interest concerns the psychological premiums placed on the believer’s conduct, and these are often not manifest from a religion’s salvation doctrine. See psychological rewards and psychological motivation.

    Sanctified (Sacrosanct).

    See Providential.


    American society should not be perceived as a “sandpile” of atomized individuals, Weber contends—that is, as persons lacking substantive group ties. Rather, the “tremendous flood of civic and social associations that penetrated from the beginning all corners of American life” pulled individuals securely into groups.


    As opposed to a church, an exclusive and tightly knit group that admits new members only on the basis of ethical action. Hence, all members are “certified” as of “good character.” The monitoring of behavior by sect members to ensure compliance with high ethical standards is intense. Ethical conduct constitutes a means of testifying to one’s salvation “before men.” See church.

    Social Action.

    Synonymous with “meaningful action.” Foundational to Weber’s sociology is his aim “to offer an interpretive understanding of social action.” Unlike “reactive” or “imitative” action, social action implies a subjectively meaningful component that “takes account of the behavior of others.” This aspect can be understood by the researcher. Weber identifies (as ideal types) four “types of social action”: affectual, traditional, means-end rational, and value-rational. Among other major goals, Economy and Society seeks to chart out the social contexts that call forth meaningful action in a variety of societal domains.

    Social Carrier (soziale Träger).

    Values, emotions, and interests are important causes forces of historical change for Weber, but only if they are “carried” by charismatic leaders as well as by demarcated and influential groups: classes, strata, and organizations. For example, in PE Weber wishes to define the groups that carried specific types of vocational ethics—and hence rendered them influential. Further, secular groups may carry (as legacies) values originally grounded in the sphere of religion (and vice-versa). A central concept in Weber’s sociology.

    Societal Domains (gesellschaftliche Domäne; life-spheres [Lebenssphären]; societal orders, arenas, and realms [gesellschaftliche Ordnungen and gellschaftliche Bereiche]).

    To Weber, social action arises mainly within the law, economy, rulership, religion, status groups, and universal organizations (the family and the clan) domains. Each constitutes a demarcated realm characterized by definable constellations of subjective meaning that are captured by ideal types. His comparative-historical analyses are organized around these spheres (and their various manifestations in different civilizational settings), and the different themes, dilemmas, and problems typical of each, rather than “society,” institutions, or the individual’s “rational choices.” In certain epochs, such as our own, some domains may fall into relationships of irreconcilable antagonism (for example, the rational economy and the religious ethos of brotherhood and compassion). All domains serve as orientational constructs for researchers seeking conceptually to “locate” empirical patterned action. A central organizing concept in Weber’s comparative historical sociology.


    People who develop only one talent or ability. Specialization inevitably takes place in societies characterized by a high division of labor. Following Goethe, this occurs to the detriment of other talents or abilities, Weber emphasizes. His texts frequently contrast the specialist to the “cultivated” person. This individual possesses Bildung: a broad and deep education, a wide range of experience, and an integrated personality. The epoch in which Bildung flourished will never return, Weber maintains.

    Spirit of Capitalism.

    Synonyms: modern economic ethic, rational economic ethic. Represented in PE by Benjamin Franklin, this spirit constitutes a secularized legacy of the Protestant ethic. An “elective affinity” connection exists, according to Weber. This “spirit” refers to a methodical orientation toward profit and competition, work “as an absolute end in itself,” and a perceived duty to increase one’s wealth (yet the avoidance of its enjoyment). Weber insists that the origin of the spirit of capitalism cannot be located in utilitarian economic activity or practical rationalism; rather, a set of religious values and the quest among ascetic Protestant believers for certainty of their salvation constitutes the source of this frame of mind. To Weber, this “spirit” played a part at the birth of modern capitalism. See Puritanism and the Protestant ethic.

    The State.

    An organization that monopolizes the legitimate use of force within specified territorial boundaries. Under certain empirical circumstances, its laws, statutes, and legal procedures endow the state with autonomy, even vis-à-vis a modern capitalist economy.

    Status (status group).

    Status groups appear where social action is patterned and oriented to social honor, social esteem, and a shared style of life and consumption patterns. Against Marx, Weber argues that inequality arises not only from property ownership; status differences also constitute an important cause.

    Status Naturae.

    The “natural state” of the human species. Human nature is not tamed, channeled, sublimated, or organized. For example, Puritanism, in rigorously organizing the lives of believers according to a set of values, accomplished just this, Weber argues—indeed in an extremely methodical manner.

    Steel-Hard Casing (“iron cage”; stahlhartes Gehäuse).

    Once “in the saddle,” modern capitalism no longer requires a set of values—a spirit of capitalism—as a supporting pillar. Rather, this grinding mechanism now sustains itself entirely on the basis of adherence to the laws of the market. Widespread impersonal calculation, practical rationality, and mechanisms to maximize efficient production characterize this steel-hard casing. Formal, practical, and theoretical types of rationality become dominant. Brotherhood and compassion, as well as ethical action, generally are defined as “irrational” and pushed to the margins, and pulsating emotions become restricted to the private sphere.


    A custom, convention, or law may become viewed as permeated by magical forces. It becomes then “stereotyped” and, as a consequence, extremely difficult to change.

    Subjective Meaning.

    Weber’s sociology never aspires to establish that which may be said to be objectively valid. Rather, it seeks interpretively to understand the subjective meaningfulness of particular patterned action by persons in specific groups (for example, churches, sects, bureaucracies, status groups, etc.). Throughout his sociology, Weber attempts to comprehend how persons lend their action meaning (no matter how odd it may appear to the observer). He wishes in PE, for example, to understand why continuous work and a systematic search for profit constitute a subjectively meaningful endeavor for ascetic Protestants. And why, for Buddhist monks, is a flight from the world meaningful? Ideal types capture subjective meaning.

    Substantive Rationality.

    A constellation of internally consistent values. If patterned social action is oriented to it, people are uprooted from traditional action and the random flow of interests typical of everyday life. Weber fears that the dominance under modern Western rationalism of formal, theoretical, and practical types of rationality will weaken all substantive rationalities.

    Symbiotic Dualism.

    Weber sees an unusual synthesis in the American political culture—namely, an activity-oriented, world-mastery individualism became juxtaposed with an orientation of persons to the values of a viable civic sphere. A mutually sustaining relationship congealed. He discovers the original manifestation of this dualism in 17th- and 18th-century Puritan sects and its later—secular—manifestation in 19th-century civic associations.

    Testify (Bewährung).

    This central notion for Puritanism (and for all striving for salvation) implies both an outward demonstration visible to others (one’s conduct, demeanor, and bearing) and a psychological element: the devout understand their strength to “prove” their belief through righteous conduct as emanating from God’s Hand. Hence, they feel an inner confidence regarding their salvation status.

    Testify Before People.

    “Qualities of a certain kind” were indispensable to become a sect member and devout conduct must be maintained continuously. Owing to the sect’s close monitoring of the behavior of all members, the faithful were required to “hold their own before people,” Weber argues, to sustain self-esteem and respectability. He saw “no stronger means of breeding traits than through the necessity of holding one’s own in the circle of one’s associates.” See sects.


    A society in which the influence of religious doctrine, sincere belief, and religious figures are dominant in all societal spheres.

    Theocratic State.

    A state in which the influence of religious doctrine, sincere belief, and religious figures are dominant.

    Theodicy, the Problem of.

    When an anthropomorphic God is omnipotent and omniscient, the search to comprehend the reasons behind evil, suffering, and injustice in the world becomes urgent. Just the continuous confrontation with this dilemma by Christian theologians and ministers, and their continuous formulation of “answers” that nonetheless failed to reduce worldly evil and injustice, itself placed into motion repeated alterations of religious doctrines, Weber holds. This conundrum also called forth perpetual transformations of thinking regarding the types of ethical action that would be pleasing to God and thereby reduce or eliminate human suffering. He describes this “religious development” as involving a theoretical rationalization process and as following, to a significant extent, “its own internal laws” (Eigengesetzlichkeit) independent of economic and political influences.

    Theoretical Rationality.

    The mastering of reality, which is undertaken alike by theologians in search of solutions to the problem of theodicy and modern-day scientists, here occurs through systematic thought and conceptual schemes. Reality is confronted cognitively rather than through values, interests, or traditions, although for theologians this confrontation (unlike for modern scientists) ultimately aims to introduce new values and to banish suffering.

    This-Worldly Asceticism (innerweltliche Askese; diesseitig).

    This term implies methodical activity “in” the world in contrast to the activity of monks “outside” the world in monasteries (other-worldly asceticism). With Puritanism, Weber argues, asceticism not only organized comprehensively the life of the devout, but also moved out of the monastery and “into” the world. Remarkably, the intense activity of Puritans was in the world but not of the world: their major orientation was not to this-worldly goods or interests but to, despite the world’s various temptations, salvation in the next life. See Puritanism.

    The Track (Gleis).

    Each civilizational rationalism possesses distinct contours and a unique developmental pathway. As Weber notes: “Not ideas, but material and ideal interests directly govern men’s conduct. Yet very frequently the ‘world views’ (Weltbilder) that have been created by ‘ideas’ have, like switchmen, determined the tracks along which action has been pushed by the dynamic of interest. ‘From what’ and ‘for what’ one wished to be redeemed . . . depended upon one’s image of the world” (1946c, p. 280).

    Traditional Action.

    This action involves “habitual stimuli” and follows an accustomed course. It is “determined by ingrained habituation.” One of Weber’s four types of social action.

    Traditional Economic Ethic.

    See economic traditionalism. A frame of mind in respect to work. Labor is viewed as a necessary evil and as an arena of life no more important than the arenas of leisure, family, and friends. Static “traditional needs” are implied; when fulfilled, then work ceases. This frame of mind stands in opposition to the development of modern capitalism. (“Traditionalism,” in Weber’s time, referred to the conduct of activities in an accustomed, habitual fashion.)

    Traditional Rulership.

    See rulership. Obedience results from an established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of those exercising rulership under them (for example, clan patriarchs). Three subtypes belong to this type of rulership: patriarchal, feudal, and patrimonial rulership. Traditional rulership has been far more widespread throughout history than the other two types of rulership identified by Weber: charismatic and bureaucratic rulership. Unlike bureaucratic rule, a personal bond exists under traditional rulership between ruler and ruled. Hence, an ethical appeal can be made directly to the ruler in the event of abuse.

    The Universal Organizations.

    The family and the clan (Sippe). Weber sees the family since Antiquity as weakened in Europe, and strengthened in China. A central life-sphere.

    Utilitarian Adaptation to the World.

    The orientation of action to the world’s “pragmatic morality” rather than to a surpassing of this morality on the basis of a rigorous orientation to God’s laws, to a constellation of religious values, and to a search for salvation.

    Value-Freedom, Freedom from Values (Wertfreiheit).

    Weber insisted that all social science research must be “value-free.” Once investigators have selected their theme of inquiry (see objectivity and value-relevance), personal values, preferences, and prejudices must not be allowed to interfere with the collection of empirical data and its evaluation. An intermixing of the researcher’s values with those of the groups under investigation must be avoided. This axiom also implies a strict division between that which exists (the subject of scientific analysis) and that which should be (the realm of personal values and preferences). Social scientists must also uphold this ideal in the classroom, Weber maintains. See ethical neutrality.

    Value-Judgment (Werturteil).

    An insertion of one’s personal values (whether rooted in political, religious, or philosophical positions) into the lecture hall or the collection and evaluation of empirical data. Weber’s methodology prohibits both. See value-freedom and objectivity.

    Value-Rational Action.

    One of Weber’s four types of social action. People may orient their conduct to values sincerely and to a significant extent, Weber contends, indeed even to the degree that they become obligatory, or “binding.” He often contrasts this type of meaningful action to means-end rational action. Unlike many sociologists today, Weber perceives value-rational action as capable of, if facilitating contexts of action and strong social carriers appear, contesting and then banishing the other three types of action.

    Value-Relevance (Wert-relevanz).

    The themes chosen to be researched are selected, Weber maintains, by reference to the investigator’s values. For example, researchers who value equality across groups will be inclined to examine aspects of civil rights movements. See objectivity.

    Virtuoso Believers.

    These persons possess unusual “religious qualifications.” They are focused systematically on religious questions generally and salvation in particular. In contrast to lay believers.

    Vocational Calling (Beruf).

    See calling.

    “The Weber Thesis.”

    Weber’s view that values—and, in particular, a constellation of values called the “spirit of capitalism”—played a significant role (however “unquantifiable”) in calling forth modern capitalism. More generally, this thesis emphasizes that explanations for economic development must acknowledge facilitating cultural—especially religion-based—patterns of action as playing a significant causal role. See spirit of capitalism.

    Western Rationalism.

    A specific configuration of ideal types, societal domains and historical developments quite distinct from those in Chinese rationalism and Indian rationalism. See civilizational rationalism. Formulated in reference to the ancient city, ancient Roman law, the monotheism and value constellations of ancient Judaism and ancient Christianity, and the comparative weakening of magic and the sib group in these world religions, Western rationalism placed a development into motion along a track quite different from the tracks laid down in ancient China and ancient India. This track would eventually, especially in the Western Middle Age and High Middle Age, call forth configurations of patterned action that facilitated the expansion of capitalism and modern capitalism. Definition of the major features of Western rationalism allowed Weber to take a large step toward the isolation of the causes behind its origin and development.

    World Mastery.

    The frame of mind of Puritan believers. They seek to “master” obstacles, randomness, and injustice to create for their God an orderly, just, and affluent kingdom. Because in accord with their God’s commandments, it will glorify His majesty. Considered irrational when viewed from the perspective of the world-fleeing Buddhist monk. See flight from the world.

    World and Religion.

    Weber’s shorthand phrase to indicate his mode of causal analysis. For him, a narrow focus on “one side of the causal equation” is avoided (except in PE). He seeks instead to undertake multicausal investigations and assumes that motivations behind action range broadly across several types of social action, several ideal types, and several societal domains.

    World Religions.

    Religions that, according to Weber, exercised a widespread influence: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

    World View (Weltbild).

    World views vary distinctly across the great civilizations: China, India, and the West. Each world view is constituted mainly from the values of a world religion; each sets a track for a civilization’s pathway of development. See track.

    A Chronology of Max Weber’s Life

    April 21, 1864

    Born in Erfurt, Thuringia: eldest of six children.


    The child becomes ill with meningitis; sister Anna dies in infancy.


    Brother Alfred, who will become a prominent economist and sociologist, is born.


    The family moves to Berlin.


    Attends the Königliche Kaiserin-Augusta-Gymnasium (elite German high school) in the Berlin suburb of Charlottenburg.


    Four-year-old sister Helene dies.


    School papers on ancient history and letters on Homer, Herodotus, Virgil, Cicero, Goethe, Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer.


    Attends the University of Heidelberg; joins the Alemannia dueling fraternity; studies law, economic history, philosophy, and history of late antiquity.


    One year of military service at Strasbourg; occasional attendance at the University of Strasbourg.


    Continuation of studies, now at the University of Berlin.


    Officer training in Strasburg; studies in Berlin for the bar exam.


    Completion of law studies at the University of Göttingen.


    Passes the bar exam in Berlin; returns to parental home and remains there (except for military duty) until 1893; studies commercial law and ancient rural history.


    Military service in Strasbourg and Posen.


    Doctoral dissertation on the development of joint liability in medieval trading companies.


    Participates with mother in the first Evangelical Social Congress.


    Finishes his second academic dissertation (on the agrarian history of Rome), thus becoming qualified to teach at a German university (Habilitation).


    Study of farmworkers in East Elbia region (East and West Prussia); publication in 1892.


    Engagement to Marianne Schnitger in March; marriage in September; wedding trip to London; moves out of parental home; substitutes for his teacher Levin Goldschmidt at the University of Berlin; Associate Professor of Commercial and German Law.


    Military exercises in Posen (spring); appointed Professor of Economics, University of Freiburg; moves to Freiburg (fall); participates in the Evangelical Social Congress in Frankfurt (report on farmworkers); publishes study on the stock exchange.


    Second trip to England, Scotland, and Ireland (August–October); inaugural academic lecture, University of Freiburg.


    Participates in Evangelical Social Congress; appointed Professor of Economics at the University of Heidelberg.


    Declines to run for election to the Reichstag; father dies in summer; trip to Spain in fall.


    Prolonged incapacity.


    Travel to Geneva; first sanatorium visit (Lake Constance); further breakdown at Christmas.


    Excused from teaching in the spring semester; resumes teaching in the fall but suffers another breakdown; offers his resignation to University of Heidelberg (declined); trip to Venice.


    Leaves Heidelberg in July; sanatorium residence until November (Urach); fall and winter in Corsica.


    Resides in Rome and southern Italy in spring; summer in Switzerland; fall and winter in Rome.


    Lives in Florence; again submits his resignation; returns in April to Heidelberg and begins to write on social science methodology questions; travels in winter to the French Riviera; reads Georg Simmel’s Philosophy of Money.


    Trips to Rome, Holland, Belgium, and northern Germany; resigns his position at the University of Heidelberg and becomes Honorarprofessor; publishes “Roscher and Knies” and begins intense work on The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.


    August–December travels widely in the United States; publication of half of PE in November and “‘Objectivity’ in Social Science and Social Policy” (1949), both in a journal Weber begins to co-edit, Archiv fur Socialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik.


    Publication of second half of PE in Archive in spring; debates with the economist Schmoller on value-judgments; studies Russian before breakfast.


    Attends the Social Democracy Party Convention; travels to southern Italy in the fall; publication of “‘Churches’ and ‘Sects’ in North America” (1985) and “Prospects for Liberal Democracy in Tsarist Russia” (1978).


    Relapse of illness; travels to Italy, Holland, and western Germany; publishes a further essay on methodology questions.


    Trip to Provence and Florence in spring; travel to Westphalia in the fall to study the psycho-physics of work in his relatives’ textile factory; publication of The Agrarian Sociology of Ancient Civilizations (1976); attacks in a newspaper article the practice in German universities of refusing to promote Social Democrats.


    Travel in southern Germany in spring; summer in the Black Forest after a relapse; attends meeting of the Association for Welfare Politics in Vienna; attacks bureaucratization together with brother Alfred; cofounds the German Sociological Association; assumes editorial leadership of the multivolume Outline of Social Economics, a task that eventually leads to Economy and Society (E&S).


    Trips to Berlin, Italy, and England; Georg Lukacs and Ernest Bloch begin regular visits to Weber’s home; the poet Stefan George attends the jour fixe twice; speaks against “race biology” at the first German Sociological Association Convention.


    Travels to Italy in the spring and Munich and Paris in the summer; criticisms of higher education policies in Germany and fraternity practices in schools of business lead to intense newspaper controversies; begins his Economic Ethics of the World Religions (EEWR) series and continues work on E&S.


    Spring in Provence; trips to Bayreuth for the Richard Wagner Festival with Marianne and the pianist Mina Tobler, and to further regions in Bavaria in summer; defends a value-free definition of the nation at the German Sociological Association conference in Berlin; resigns from the Association.


    Italy in spring and fall (Ascona, Assisi, Siena, Perugia, and Rome); resides for several months in the counter-culture community in Ascona; publishes an early version of E&S’s “Basic Concepts” (Chapter 1); continues to work on E&S.


    Travels in spring to Ascona and Zurich to defend Frieda Gross in a child custody case; after outbreak of war in August commissioned as reserve officer to establish and manage nine military hospitals around Heidelberg; participation in further debates on value-judgments.


    Youngest brother Karl dies on the Russian Front; returns to research on EEWR; political activity in Berlin against German annexation policy; honorably retired in fall as hospital administrator.


    Trip to East Prussia with sister Lili in spring to visit Karl’s grave; further trips to Vienna and Budapest; summer travel to Lake Constance; first public lecture in Germany given in 19 years; newspaper articles opposing intensified German submarine warfare against English and American ships; participates in a study group focusing on the Polish problem and the creation of a European-wide free trade zone and economic community; publishes The Religion of China and The Religion of India in the Archiv.


    Ancient Judaism published in the Archiv; lectures in Munich on science as a vocation; extensive advocacy in newspapers for electoral and parliamentary reform, and argues against censorship; alienates, despite adulation, younger generation at conferences in May and October at Lauenstein Castle in Thuringia; professorship (Economics) offered by the University of Vienna; reads Stefan George’s poetry while vacationing in summer in western Germany; publishes essay on value-judgments.


    Begins teaching after a 19-year hiatus; two courses in Vienna offered in the university’s largest lecture hall: “A Positive Critique of the Materialist View of History” and “Sociology of the State”; 25th wedding anniversary; supports a British-style constitutional monarchy for Germany; member of the founding committee of a new liberal party (the German Democratic Party); gives several election campaign speeches; encourages the Kaiser to abdicate; fails to gain a seat at the Constitutional Convention.


    Continues speeches on behalf of the German Democratic Party and is elected to its executive committee; lectures in Munich on “politics as a vocation”; member of the German peace delegation to Versailles charged with drafting a reply to the Allies’ war guilt memorandum; in May tried to persuade General Ludendorff in Berlin to voluntarily surrender to the Allies; appointed Professor of Economics at the University of Munich; lecture courses on “General Categories in Sociology” spring/summer and “Outline of a Universal Social and Economic History” in fall/winter; moves to Munich; farewell party in Heidelberg; mother dies in October.


    Writes “Prefatory Remarks” to Collected Essays on the Sociology of Religion; revises first volume (PE, “Sects,” 1946b, 1946c, Religion of China) of this three-volume project; Part I of E&S goes to press; “Political Science” and “Socialism” lecture courses offered in Munich; suicide of youngest sister in April; marriage crisis leads to practical separation; flu develops into pneumonia at the beginning of June; dies on June 14 in Munich.


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    About the Authors

    Stephen Kalberg teaches classical and contemporary theory, comparative political cultures, and comparative-historical sociology at Boston University. He is the author of Max Weber’s Comparative-Historical Sociology (1994), translator of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (2011), and editor of Max Weber: Readings and Commentary on Modernity (2005) and The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism with Other Writings on the Rise of the West (2009). An earlier introduction to Max Weber was translated into German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Turkish. He is the author more recently of Max Weber’s Comparative-Historical Sociology Today (2012) and Searching for the Spirit of American Democracy: Max Weber’s Analysis of a Unique Political Culture Past, Present, and Future (2014b). His Max Weber’s Sociology of Civilizations is forthcoming. In addition, he has written numerous studies that compare German and American societies.

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