Reading questions for Weber’s Protestant Ethic, chapters 3 & 4


So let me start with a quick reminder.  Chapters 1 & 2 are effectively introductory; they introduce an empirical puzzle (chapter 1, wherein Weber wonders why there is a differentiation between Catholics and Protestants regarding wealth and occuptation), and then offer an analysis of the main phenomenon Weber is interested to explain (i.e., the “spirit of capitalism”). 

The remainder of the book sketches Weber’s actual explanation.  For Tuesday’s reading, you are to complete chapter 4, which is a discussion of Calvinist, Pietist, Methodist, and Baptist theology.  Focus your attention, however, on the section on Calvinism.  What you’re looking for, at this stage, is the potential connection between Calvinist theology and the the capitalist spirit (note: Weber quite clearly is not accusing Calvinism of inventing the capitalist spirit; Calvin, like all church reformers, was interested in salvation, and probably would find the capitalist spirit that Weber has described to be quite dismaying.  Nevertheless, Weber suggests that Calvinist doctrines end up creating an ethos that, over time, transforms into the capitalist spirit).

(1) How do I achieve salvation if I’m a Catholic?  How about if I’m a Lutheran?

(2) What is the doctrine of predestination?

(3) Given this doctrine, why should I ever do anything? 

(4) According to Weber, Calvinism is a magnificently logical faith.  In what sense is this true? (Hint: the answer has something to do with the idea of rationalization).

(5) In what sense does Calvinism purge all forms of mysticism, magic, and miracles from its view of the world?

(6) How can the Calvinist believer become assured of his/her salvation?

(7) Why didn’t the original Calvinists (such as the Puritans or Pilgrms in the U.S.) sing, dance, adorn their churches with decorations, and so on?

(8) For a Calvinist (according to Weber), how does one determine whether one is doing God’s work?

(9) If I accept this doctine, what are some of the consequences for my “personality”?  What sorts of characteristics should I cultivate?  How do I view my place in the world?

(10) Let’s say I’m a Calvinist who owns a business (say, the sort of putting-out business Weber described in chapter 2): how will I conduct this business?  What will I do with the profits if I have any?  What do you suppose might happen if we have entire communities of people who live in this way?


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