Religion and the Transformations of Capitalism: Comparative Approaches

Religion and the Transformations of Capitalism: Comparative Approaches

Religion and the Transformations of Capitalism: Comparative Approaches

Religion and the Transformations of Capitalism: Comparative Approaches

Synopsis

This book addresses from a socio-scientific standpoint the interaction of religions and forms of contemporary capitalism. Contributors explore a wide range of interactions between economic systems and their socio-cultural contexts.

Excerpt

Like his projected work on revolution, Max Weber never completed a free-standing essay on Islam within his world religions corpus. Treatments of his understanding of Islam must be garnered from fragments scattered throughout his work, particularly Economy and Society. At the same time, however, as Karl Jaspers points out, all of Weber’s works ‘are really fragments. A work would end with the note. An additional article follows’ (italics in original (1920), 1989: p.40). To present a discussion in the contemporary context based on ‘Weber on Islam’, is simply to acknowledge at the outset that all of Weber’s theses have a tentativeness about them. Only those who misunderstand science as a revelation of eternal truth rather than as a process for gaining knowledge should be disturbed by this observation. The ultimate test of a conceptual apparatus is its use value, and in this chapter I want to make use of Weber’s analyses in a comparative way to highlight both the positive and negative associations between Islamic states and capitalism currently.

I will focus on two broad Islamic sectors of the globe. One of these is the ‘traditional lands of Islam’, running from the West African coast of the Maghreb through the Levant to Persia. The other is Islamic Southeast Asia, principally Malaysia and Indonesia. These two cases provide contrasting pictures of the relation of Islam to capitalism, and I will argue that they reflect broader cultural orientations that both underscore and limit the accuracy of Weber’s assertions. In making this comparison, I am leaving out two other big Islamic sectors: Subsaharan Africa and the Slavic peoples. I am also excluding Turkey and those areas of the Indian subcontinent and Mongol world that remain Islamic. Each of these cases can be addressed within a Weberian framework (as Murvar (1989) has, for example, for some of the Balkan states), but each also has cultural dynamics that are much less clearly relevant to capitalism at present than the two areas I do propose to examine.

ASSESSMENTS OF WEBER ON ISLAM

The literature on Weber on Islam is relatively limited and may be placed into one of four categories:

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