Religion in Secularizing Society: The Europeans' Religion at the End of the 20th Century

By Loek Halman; Ole Riis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
RELIGION AND THE SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM
IN MODERN EUROPE
OLE RIIS

1 Introduction

Europe is united by a common heritage of Christianity, and divided by the aftermath of the Reformation wars. The contrast between the Protestant regions of Northern Europe and the Catholic regions of Southern Europe has inspired many sociological studies. Troeltsch, Brentano, Weber, Halévy, and Merton have forwarded theories about the consequences of the Protestant Reformation for the modernization of Europe. The most famous is, of course, Max Weber's study of how the Protestant idea of the worldly calling and the ascetic Protestant's quest for signs of salvation paved the way for legitimizing the modern spirit of Capitalism.1 The closing chapter of The Protestant Ethic ends by relegating the difference to the era of early capitalism. Today we are caught in an iron cage of materialism and means-ends-rationality. This passage has inspired numerous theories concerning modernization, secularization and confessional convergence.

In section 2 below, the historical background for the differences between Protestants and Catholics is explored and how religious features are intertwined with societal structures. Section 3 presents Webers' ideal types in order to clarify where later research deviates from his typology. Section 4 presents empirical research on differences in economic ethics between religious groups in a modern, European context. Section 5 argues for three hypotheses about religious differences in economic ethics. Section 6 discusses the first hypothesis which is

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1
The main argument of this famous essay rests on distinctions between Catholic and Protestant ethics, and between the spirit of adventure-capitalism, exemplified by the Fuggers, and the spirit of modern capitalism, exemplified by Franklin. The latter spirit is tempered and legitimized by the ideals forwarded by Ascetic Protestantism.

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