‘How ideas become effective in history’ Max Weber on Confucianism and beyond

‘How ideas become effective in history’ Max Weber on Confucianism and beyond

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Journal of China in Comparative Perspective > Vol.2 > Issue 1 > Page 14-30

‘How ideas become effective in history’  Max Weber on Confucianism and beyond

Wolfgang Schluchter

Journal of China in Comparative Perspective (JCCP) is the only peer-reviewed academic dual language journal for social scientific, humanities and comparative studies of China in the world, published biannually in June and December in print and electronic versions from 2015 by the Global China Press. Electronic articles can be accessed online from the JCCP website after you have subscribed to the journal. For institutions, we will need your IP address/es, either on-campus, off-campus or both.

JCCP DOI https://doi.org/10.24103/JCCP Crossref

DOI https://doi.org/10.24103/JCCP.2016.1.2

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Abstract

Max Weber’s interest in East Asia started as early as 1898, but it came to fruition only after 1910. Instead of continuing his essays on ascetic Protestantism, as promised to the public, he embarked on a comparison of world religions, in which he included Confucianism, although he did not regard it as a religion in the strict sense of the term. As a matter of expediency, however, he used Confucianism as the most pronounced counter-example to ascetic Protestantism, seemingly similar from the outside, but totally different from the inside. So Confucianism is included in his attempt to provide a sociology and typology of religious rationalism. Confucianism is also used as a backdrop to understand the singularity of Western development. The sketch, as he calls it, is not meant as a full-fledged analysis of this intellectual and social movement nor of Imperial China at large. Therefore, it is very dangerous to apply Weber’s analysis to the current situation in China (after the Cultural Revolution and the one-child policy). I call this the fallacy of misplaced application. This does not rule out, however, using Weber’s methodology and conceptual tools to a certain extent for such an analysis. How this can be done is shown in the last section of this article.

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Abstract: Max Weber’s interest in East Asia started as early as 1898, but it came to fruition only after 1910. Instead of continuing his essays on ascetic Protestantism, as promised to the public, he embarked on a comparison of world religions, in which he included Confucianism, although he did not regard it as a religion in the strict sense of the term. As a matter of expediency, however, he used Confucianism as the most pronounced counter-example to ascetic Protestantism, seemingly similar from the outside, but totally different from the inside. So Confucianism is included in his attempt to provide a sociology and typology of religious rationalism. Confucianism is also used as a backdrop to understand the singularity of Western development. The sketch, as he calls it, is not meant as a full-fledged analysis of this intellectual and social movement nor of Imperial China at large. Therefore, it is very dangerous to apply Weber’s analysis to the current situation in China (after the Cultural Revolution and the one-child policy). I call this the fallacy of misplaced application. This does not rule out, however, using Weber’s methodology and conceptual tools to a certain extent for such an analysis. How this can be done is shown in the last section of this article.

Keywords: Max Weber, Confucianism, world affirmation, religious rationalism, Chinese capitalism, emerging middle class

Wolfgang Schluchter is a German sociologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Heidelberg. Schluchter is recognized as a leading sociologist of religion and an authority on the history of sociological theory, in particular on the work of Max Weber. He was visiting professor at several universities worldwide, including the University of Pittsburgh, the New School for Social Research, and the University of California at Berkeley. His major publications are Max Weber’s Vision of History: Ethics and Methods (1979), The Rise of Western Rationalism: Max Weber’s Developmental History (1985), Rationalism, Religion, and Domination: A Weberian Perspective (1989), Paradoxes of Modernity: Culture and Conduct in the Theory of Max Weber (1986), Max Weber and Islam (1995), Public Spheres and Collective Identities (2000).

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Wolfgang Schluchter

‘How ideas become effective in history’  Max Weber on Confucianism and beyond

Journal of China in Comparative Perspective
Vol.2 Issue 1. 2016, p14-30
DOI: http://doi.org/10.24103/JCCP.2016.1.2
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