Max Weber Revisited

Religion, Economy, and Cooperation (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2010).

62 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2013

See all articles by Robert H. Nelson

Robert H. Nelson

University of Maryland - School of Public Policy

Date Written: September 1, 2010


Max Weber famously observed in 1905 that in his own time, and in many earlier times and places, followers in Protestant religions, and especially Calvinism, occupied a disproportionate number of the leading economic positions. Weber attributed this greater Protestant economic success in significant part to elements of Calvinist theology that saw success in a calling as a sign of a person’s likely salvation. Partly because it challenged the widespread economic determinism of the twentieth century – which saw little role for exogenous religious explanations of economic (or other social) affairs – the Weber thesis generated a large critical literature. This paper reviews the Weber debate over the course of the twentieth century. It finds that, at the end of the century, the Weber thesis was still standing; many leading economic and other analysts of European history agreed that Protestantism played a significant part in the rise of capitalism. The specific religious reasons given by Weber, however, were deemphasized. Other features such as the Protestant encouragement of literacy, its confiscation of church properties thus putting them into production, its encouragement of a general national environment of greater political and economic freedoms, and its promotion of more democratic popular habits of thought, were more important contributing factors.

Suggested Citation

Nelson, Robert H., Max Weber Revisited (September 1, 2010). Religion, Economy, and Cooperation (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2010).. Available at SSRN:

Robert H. Nelson (Contact Author)

University of Maryland - School of Public Policy ( email )

College Park, MD 20742-1815
United States
301-405-6345 (Phone)
301-718-4377 (Fax)

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