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Religion and the Spirit of Capitalism. Remarks to the Function of Religion in Modern Societies

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The Spirit of Conscious Capitalism

Part of the book series: Ethical Economy ((SEEP,volume 63))

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The article deals with the relationship between religion and economy in modern, functionally differentiated society. Based on Max Weber’s famous study on the emergence of capitalism from the spirit of puritan ethics, the religious socialism of Paul Tillich and conscious capitalism are reconstructed as ways of dealing with the destructive tendencies of modern economics. But in modern societies religion and economics are autonomous systems. Religion doesn’t answer economic problems and vice versa. Religion deals with religious questions and economics with economic questions. How is then a relation or a debate between both religion and economics possible? Could it be possible to construct on a meta-level in which religious themes translate into economics, and economical themes translate into religious? Or must both systems develop in itself a critical solution for its own problems? This paper agues for the second option.

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  1. 1.

    Cf. Luhmann (2002).

  2. 2.

    Cf. also the article from Michael Thate in this volume.

  3. 3.

    On Benjamin’s interpretation of capitalism as religion, cf. Arndt (2017), 170–178; Steiner (1998), 147–171; Thiessen (1996), 400–418.

  4. 4.

    Cf. Wagner (1984); Dierken (2017).

  5. 5.

    Most notably Ruster (2000); ibid. (1999), 179–206; cf. Jacob et al. (1991); König (2014).

  6. 6.

    Cf. Benjamin (1991), 101: Capitalism is a religion that consists in the “shattering” of being.

  7. 7.

    Mackey and Sisodia (2014), 11.

  8. 8.

    Cf. Weber (1993).

  9. 9.

    Weber has continued this program in his studies on the Wirtschaftsethik der Weltreligionen. Cf. Weber (1991–2008).

  10. 10.

    Cf. Schluchter (1991).

  11. 11.

    Cf. Marx (1962), 93: “And for a society based upon the production of commodities, in which the producers in general enter into social relations with one another by treating their products as commodities and values, whereby they reduce their individual private labor to the standard of homogeneous human labor – for such a society, Christianity with its cultus of abstract man, more especially in its bourgeois developments, Protestantism, Deism, andc., is the most fitting form of religion.”

  12. 12.

    Marx (1983), 371.

  13. 13.

    Cf. Weber (1993), 31. Cf. Bourdieu (2000).

  14. 14.

    Cf. Weber (1993), 11–14.

  15. 15.

    Cf. Weber (1993), 39.

  16. 16.

    Cf. Weber (1993), 71: “And on the other hand, to achieve that self-assurance, restless professional work was inculcated as an excellent means. She and she alone scared away religious doubt and gave the security of the state of grace.”

  17. 17.

    Cf. Weber (1993), 122–155.

  18. 18.

    Cf. Weber (1993), 146f. This spirit consists in the “religious evaluation of the restless, steady, systematic, secular professional work as the par excellence of the highest ascetic means and at the same time the most secure and visible proof of the reborn man and his certainty of faith” and it had to be “the most powerful lever conceivable for the expansion of that conception of life which we have here called the ‘spirit’ of capitalism”.

  19. 19.

    Weber (1993), 144f.

  20. 20.

    Weber (1993), 153.

  21. 21.

    Around 1900, various attempts of an exodus from the iron-hard cages of modern rationality were tried out, which were by no means limited to the Christian religion. These include youth movements like the Wandervogel, or a new interest in mysticism, far-eastern religions, and much more. Cf. Danz (2020b), 17–28; Bolz (1989).

  22. 22.

    Weber (1993), 153.

  23. 23.

    Cf. Weber (1993), 154: “Then, however, the word could become the truth for the ‘last men of this cultural development: ‘specialists without spirit, pleasure-seekers without heart, this nothingness imagines that it has ascended to a stage of humanity never before reached.’”

  24. 24.

    Cf. Tillich (1968), 41.

  25. 25.

    Cf. Tillich (1998b), 322, but also the implicit criticism of Weber’s thesis in: Tillich, (1965), 116.

  26. 26.

    On the reception of Weber in the crisis discourses of the 1920s, cf. Bolz (1989).

  27. 27.

    Cf. Tillich (1998a), 169: “Religious socialism is the attempt to understand socialism religiously and to shape it from this understanding and at the same time to relate the religious principle to social reality and to give it shape in it.”

  28. 28.

    On Tillich’s understanding of the demonic as a category of the ambiguous, cf. Danz (2018), 147–184.

  29. 29.

    Cf. Danz (2014), 71–103.

  30. 30.

    Tillich’s definition of religion stands in the context of various other redefinitions of religion around 1900. In Judaism, too, new versions of what is to be understood by religion emerge during this period. Cf. J. B. Soloveitchik (1991), Halakhic Man, New York: The Jewish Publication Society.

  31. 31.

    Cf. Tillich (1959a), 228: “The precondition of this view is the realization that religion is not a sphere of meaning (Sinn) beside the others, but an attitude in all spheres: The immediate direction toward the unconditional.”

  32. 32.

    Cf. Tillich (1959b), 318: “Here is now the place to bring the dialectic of the concept of religion to complete transparency: As soon as the consciousness is directed to the unconditional, the duality of act and object arises. But now the religious act is not a special one; it is real only in the other acts. It must therefore give them a form in which the religious quality is visible. This formation is the paradox, i.e., at the same time the affirmation and negation of the autonomous forms.”

  33. 33.

    Cf. Tillich (1998b), 323: “Your [sc. of bourgeois society] is the radical dissolution of all primordial conditions, ties and forming into elements that can be rationally mastered and the rational combination of these elements into functional entities for thought and action.

  34. 34.

    Cf. Tillich (1968), 41: “It is not the economy per se that is an expression of finiteness resting in itself, but rather a certain position of the economy in the social whole and the forms of its execution that result from it.”

  35. 35.

    Tillich (1968), 41.

  36. 36.

    On the inclusion of Tillich’s category of the demonic in contemporary interpretations of capitalism, cf. Tillich (2008), 139–163; Deutschmann (2014), 7–42.

  37. 37.

    Cf. Tillich (1998b), 333.

  38. 38.

    Cf. Heimann (1938), 245–284; Kruse (1994).

  39. 39.

    Mackey and Sisodia (2014), 21.

  40. 40.

    Cf. Mackey and Sisodia (2014), 15f. On the various forms of capitalism, cf. Graf (2004), 183f.

  41. 41.

    Mackey and Sisodia (2014), 22.

  42. 42.

    Cf. Mackey and Sisodia (2014), 32–35.

  43. 43.

    Cf. Mackey and Sisodia (2014), 33: “Purpose is the reason a company exists.” Cf. ibd., 41–67.

  44. 44.

    Cf. Mackey and Sisodia (2014), 60–62.

  45. 45.

    Cf. Mackey and Sisodia (2014), 63f.

  46. 46.

    Mackey and Sisodia (2014), 63.

  47. 47.

    On the religious function of desire for economic action cf. King (2019), 625–634.

  48. 48.

    Cf. Mackey and Sisodia (2014), 55: “It becomes a calling – something we were born to do.”

  49. 49.

    Cf. Simmel (2001), 194–223.

  50. 50.

    Cf. Luhmann (2000), 278–319.

  51. 51.

    Cf. Weber (1993), 154: “Where ‘professional fulfilment’ cannot be directly related to the highest spiritual cultural values, − or where, conversely, it must not be subjectively perceived as simply an economic constraint – the individual today usually dispenses with its interpretation at all.”

  52. 52.

    Cf. Danz (2005), 118–122.

  53. 53.

    In view of the problems associated with the underlying model of social unity, it is understandable that Tillich modified his conception of religious socialism in the United States beginning in the 1930s.

  54. 54.

    Cf. Graf (2004), 179–181; King (2019), 625–634.

  55. 55.

    Mackey and Sisodia (2014), 32.

  56. 56.

    To the current debate cf. Tanner (2019).

  57. 57.

    On the concept of religion and his problems cf. Danz (2020a), 101–113.


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Danz, C. (2022). Religion and the Spirit of Capitalism. Remarks to the Function of Religion in Modern Societies. In: Dion, M., Pava, M. (eds) The Spirit of Conscious Capitalism. Ethical Economy, vol 63. Springer, Cham.

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