Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Medieval Religious Rationalities: A Weberian Analysis/Rationalities in History: A Weberian Essay in Comparison

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Medieval Religious Rationalities: A Weberian Analysis/Rationalities in History: A Weberian Essay in Comparison

Article excerpt

Medieval

Medieval Religious Rationalities: A Weberian Analysis. By D. L. d'Avray. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2010. Pp. x, 198. $85.00 clothbound, ISBN 978-0-521-76707-1; $29.99 paperback, ISBN 978-0-52118682-7.)

Rationalities in History: A Weberian Essay in Comparison. By D. L. d'Avray. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2010. Pp. x, 214. $85.00 clothbound, ISBN 978-0-521-19920-0; $29.99 paperback, ISBN 978-0-52112808-7.)

In Collected Essays on the Sociology of Religion (Tübingen, 1920-21) and Economy and Society (Tübingen, 1925), Max Weber developed a taxonomy that distinguished four types of rationality. In the pair of studies under review, D. L. d'Avray argues that Weber's four rationalities (instrumental, value, formal, and substantive) might be fruitfully applied to the study of history. The two volumes are closely related and best understood as parts of a single argument. In Rationalities in History, the more theoretical of the two volumes, d'Avray reviews the Weberian frame work and suggests the rewards of using it to interpret diverse historical evidence. In Medieval Religious Rationalities , he applies Weber's schema to case studies from the European Middle Ages. In both volumes, the author rejects readings of Weber that describe the rise of rationality as a defining feature of modernity. D'Avray argues convincingly that to accept such readings is to misunderstand both Weber and the premodern world. Gratian's Decretum, for example, serves as a compelling example of the operation of formal rationality in the medieval period. The Weberian approach has benefits aside from allowing us to cultivate a subtler understanding of the differences between the modern world and the Middle Ages. The diverse examples adduced in Rationalities in History (Azande witch oracles, Hume's essay on miracles, and Buddhist asceticism, to name a few) dramatize the appealing prospect that Weber's model can foster broadly comparative approaches to the study of religion and history.

D'Avray is especially interested in the interface of different rationalities. …

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