Weberian Sociology and the Study of Pentecostalism: Historical Patterns and Prospects for the Future

By Nogueira-Godsey, Trad | Journal for the Study of Religion : JSR, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Weberian Sociology and the Study of Pentecostalism: Historical Patterns and Prospects for the Future


Nogueira-Godsey, Trad, Journal for the Study of Religion : JSR


Introduction

The Pentecostal movement is often traced back to the Azusa Street Revival (though many have noted Pentecostal expressions before this event) of 1906, one year after Max Weber published his second volume of Die Protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus (1904-05). Max Weber has become known as one of the fathers of modern sociology of religion, and Pentecostalism is frequently referred to as the fastest growing Christian movement in the world. In this history Weberian sociology has crossed paths with Pentecostalism in a few instances, each time producing interesting and trajectory-altering results.

Church-sect theory became untenable, in part, due to studies that featured Pentecostals. Secularization theory fell into disrepute, in part, because of the rapid growth of Pentecostalism in the latter half of the twentieth century, including the Charismatic Revival of the 1960s and 1970s. The Pentecostal ethic for development has recently emerged in the sociology of religion, and has gained a considerable following among respected social theorists and theologians. The Pentecostal ethic for development, specifically claims that Pentecostals are imbued with Max Weber's ethic of inner-worldly asceticism and therefore offer a solution to contemporary economic problems in the developing world, is a relatively new proposal in the sociology of religion, but has yet to be substantiated with corroborating data. Each of these three theories have roots in the work of Max Weber, though over time they acquired significant departures from the work and intentions of Weber.

By analyzing these three cases and their interactions with Pentecostalism, a pattern emerges. Some elements of this pattern will be visible in all three cases, while others may only be visible in the cases of church-sect and secularization theories. This is due to the recent emergence of a Pentecostal ethic for development, and it is suggested that this recent hypothesis is on a similar trajectory and therefore may suffer a similar fate as church-sect and secularization theories. The commonalities shared by these three cases that make this pattern visible can be seen on three distinct planes: origin, application and acceptance.

Origin

Church-Sect Theory

Church-sect theory, secularization theory, and the Pentecostal ethic for development all have roots in the works of Max Weber. However, the relationship between each of these theories and the work of Max Weber is not a straightforward one. For this reason we should more rightly refer to them as quasi-Weberian. Church-sect theory developed from Weber's "ideal types" (Idealtypus) as a means to understand the nature of various religious groups, how these groups operate, and why they are formed. Max Weber first introduced the terms as tools to aid him in his analysis of historical data. The "church" and the "sect" were not classifications but rather idealized types of religious bodies from which he could launch a comparison (Swatos 1976: 133). These terms were borrowed by Ernst Troeltsch in his The Social Teachings of the Christian Church (Die Soziallehren der christlichen Kirchen und Gruppen, 1912), and were picked up by H. Richard Niebuhr in his The Social Sources of Denominationalism (1929). Niebuhr's book was published in English a year before the translation of Weber's Protestant Ethic appeared in 1930 by Talcott Parsons, and servedfor many as an introduction to Weber's thoughts. However, Niebuhr's reading of Weber was heavily influenced by Troeltsch, who had used Weber's Ideal Types of "church" and "sect" (and incidentally added his own "mystical" type) as broad classification devices. Sociologists, following Troeltsch and Niebuhr's lead (though both were concerned theologians first and foremost), became increasingly distant from Max Weber's heuristic use of the terms in his "ideal type" construct and adopted a more taxonomic use for the terms. Whereas Weber employed the church and the sect as models for comparison, ideals that represent the polar extremes of a religious body's relationship to their society/environment, they increasingly became used as classifications (with additional and sub-classifications added over time). …

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