Scholar: Max Weber’s Sociology in His Later Years

Chi Shuai from the sociology department of Nankai University in north China's Tianjin City
Chi Shuai from the sociology department of Nankai University in north China's Tianjin City (photo: Nankai University)
By Christine Lau August 30th, 2021

A scholar said Max Weber expected to reflect on the modern western cultural world through his sociology works. 

Themed "Indigenization and Discourse Construction in the Study of the Sociology of Religion in the New Era", the 2021 Academic Annual Conference of the Chinese Sociological Association was hosted at Southwest University in Chongqing, from 16 to 18 July.

In the sub-forum of Sociology of Religion in the 2021 conference, hosted by the Chinese Sociological Society held on July 17, Chi Shuai, lecturer of sociology department of Nankai University, delivered a lecture entitled “Max Weber’s Sociology in His Later Years - Its Origin, Composition, and Issues”.

“Weber’s sociology emerged in his later years because of his personal life history and his academic career history,” Chi explained.

First of all, he briefly introduced the founding causes of Weber’s sociology, including Weber’s personal life and political inclination, which played an active role in exploring the cultural significance in sociology. Weber’s discussion on social science methodology was derived from the methodological dispute between the historical and the theoretical schools in the 19th century. The origin of modern capitalism in the 19th century became an important issue of concern to many scholars. Weber’s studies and research on Protestant ethics and capitalism had provoked several confrontations with other scholars.

“The works such as Economy and Society and From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology were the main concerns of Weber’s sociology in his late years.” He continued, “What was the relationship between the two works? According to Wolfgang Schluchter’s point of view, it was necessary to trace the history of the two.”

Before 1909, Economy and Society was called Handbook of Political Economy, which had different versions. Dominant sociology was one of the core contents of Economy and Society. In the authoritative version of Weber’s Complete Works, Economic Ethics of World Religions also had different parts. As an important work in Weber’s religious sociology research, Essays in Sociology also occupied a special position in Weber’s thoughts. His ideology shifted after The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism showed that the parallel development of the relationship between Essays in Sociology and Economy, Social Order and Power had its own emphasis.

Chi said, “This reflected that the theme of Weber’s works was changing, but at the same time, it had managed to maintain unity in the change, reflecting the coherence between the two. Schluchter pointed out that Fundamentals of Social Economics and Essays in Sociology had different research perspectives on the concept of development and of application. The former used the concept of development, while the latter reflected the concept of application.”

Weber’s later topics were economics and politics, not economics and religion.

“Weber’s discussion of historical materialism involved three aspects,” he said. “The criticism of historical materialism led to criticism and counter-criticism, and involved methodology and content as well as the discussion of the relationship between ideas and ignorant interests. Rationalization also constituted an important topic in Weber’s works. Schluchter believed that Weber hoped to successfully reflect on the modern western cultural world.”

- Translated by Charlie Li

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