Soc 461/561

Lecture 14:  Tensions Between Religion and Modernity

April 28, 1999



"Religious Rejections of the World and Their Direction."  Or, more literally,

"Intermediate Reflections: A Theory of the Stages and Directions of Religious Rejections of the World."

Key term: "world-denying love."

Subject of "Intermediate Reflections": not simply religious rejections of world but differentiation of value spheres—

  1. [kinship]
  2. economic
  3. political
  4. aesthetic
  5. erotic
  6. intellectual

--and increasingly irreconcilable conflict between them.

A differentiation which leads to "polytheism" of modernity, i.e., "war of the gods."

"Culture wars" as result of entire process of rationalization.

"Axial Age": period of emergence of world (historic) religions, i.e., what Weber calls "salvation religions."

What led to decisive breakthrough to modernity? Several factors.

Modernity characterized by high degree of rationalization in every institutional sphere & increasing disjunction between spheres (i.e., differentiation).

Economics: not key to complex of modernity. If not economics then what is?

Central topic of essay provides clue, i.e., "tensions between religion and the world."


Typology of World-Rejection


Asceticism & Mysticism

other-worldly asceticism other-worldly mysticism

inner-worldly asceticism inner-worldly mysticism


Where does Weber start?

Conflict between religion & kinship. How is it resolved?

Source of religious ethic of brotherliness: neighborliness, family & sense of community.

Neighborliness "brotherly love-communism feeling of direct communion w/ God inclination among believers toward "an objectless world-denying love" universal brotherhood transcending in-group out-group barriers.

Kinship becomes moral core of religion in form of "world-denying love."

Empirical referents of world-denying love: Buddha, Jesus & Francis.

Social & Cultural Conditions for Axial Breakthroughs:

  1. social context of unrest;
  2. writing; &,
  3. groups of intellectuals w/ sufficient degree of autonomy from established order to

question its assumptions (the key condition).

"Organic social ethic": compromise of radical implications of axial religions, e.g., Hinduism and Catholicism.

Unlike erotic & aesthetic spheres, intellectual sphere offers no alternative form of salvation.


Upshot: ethic of universal brotherliness has no place in modern world.


Are we headed toward "the polar night of icy darkness and hardness"?