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Historiography Seminar 4: Weber and his Method

SEMINAR FOUR: WEBER AND HIS METHOD(after a lecture on `Weber: History and Sociology’)

The seminar will explore the case of a profoundly influential (and much disputed) historical thesis produced by a scholar who `wasn’t a historian’, paying particular attention to Weber’s `historical method’. Historiography themes will be kept in mind: although Jack Goody does not mention Weber in his Theft of History, he is one of the scholars implicated in Goody’s charge that `capitalism’ and `individualism’ have been conceived of as uniquely Western developments, and thus `stolen’ from the history of the rest of the world. 


Weber, M, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (ed. A. Giddens, London, 1992), Intro. and pp.1-50, 102-125.

(This is a very short book, despite appearances: more than half of it consists of the copious notes Weber produces when it turned from two articles into a book. It’s worth – it’s recommended! – that you read it all.)

Background Seminar Reading:

Blaut, J. M., Eight Eurocentric Historians ( New York, 2000), 19-30 (ch.2, `Max Weber: Western Rationality’)

Green, A., & Troup, K. (eds), The Houses of History: A Critical Reader in Twentieth-century History and Theory (Manchester, 1999), 110-120 (‘Historical Sociology’)

Gellner, D., `Max Weber, Capitalism, and the Religion of India’, Sociology, 16:4 (1982), 526-543

Hamilton, Alistair, ‘Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’, in S. Turner (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Weber (Cambridge, 2000), 151-71

Iggers, G. & Wang, Q. E, A Global History of Modern Historiography (London, 2008), 165-171

Kasler, D., Max Weber: An Introduction to His Life and Work (Cambridge, 1988), 174-84

Peltonen, `The Weber Thesis and Economic Historians’, Max Weber Studies, 8:1 (2008), 79-98

Radkau, Joachim, Max Weber. A Biography (2005; London, 2009), 179-207

Whatmore, Richard, `The Weber Thesis: “unproven yet unrefuted”,’ in W. Lamont (ed.), Historical Controversies and Historians (London, 1998), 95-108

Questions for Seminar Preparation (may also be used as essay titles):

  1. `A somewhat pretentious phrase’, said Max Weber. What is `the Spirit of Capitalism’?
  2. Is Weber's Protestant Ethic primarily an attack on materialist explanations of historical change?
  3. `A product of modern European civilization, studying a problem of universal history’. Does this describe Weber and his Protestant Ethic?
  4. What was the fate of Weber and the `Weber thesis’ among historians?

More Specialised Studies: Weber and the Sociologists:

Baehr, P., ‘The “Iron Cage” and the “Shell Hard as Steel”: Parsons, Weber and the Stahlhartes Gehause: Metaphor in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’, History and Theory 40 (2001), 153-69

Collins, R., ‘Weber's Last Theory of Capitalism: A Systematisation’, American Sociological Review, 45 (1980), 925-42; reprinted in Collins, Weberian Sociological Theory (Cambridge, 1986), 19-44

Davis, W. M., ‘“Anti-critical Last Word on The Sprit of Capitalism” by Max Weber’, American Journal of Sociology 83:5 (March 1978), 105-1131

Gerth, H. H., & Wright-Mills, C. (eds), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (London, 1948), chs.1-3 & 302-22

Giddens, A., `Marx, Weber and the Development of Capitalism’, Sociology 4 (1970), 289-311 [

Giddens, A., Sociology (Cambridge, 1989), ch.22 (‘The Development of Sociological Theory’)

Goddard, D., ‘Max Weber and the Objectivity of Social Sciences’, History & Theory 12 (1973), 1-22

Howe, R. H., ‘Max Weber’s Elective Affinities: Sociology Within the Bounds of Pure Reason’, American Journal of Sociology 84:2 (1978), 366-85

Lessnoff, M. H., The Spirit of Capitalism and the Protestant Ethic: An Enquiry into the Weber Thesis (Aldershot, 1994)

McIntosh, D., `The Objective Bases of Max Weber’s Ideal Types’, History & Theory, 16 (1977), 265-279

Mommsen, W. J. & Osterhammel, J. (eds), Max Weber and his Contemporaries (London, 1987), intro. & ch.2

Mommsen, W. J., ‘Max Weber’s “Grand Sociology”: The Origins and Composition of Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft’, History & Theory, 39 (2000), 364-383

Mommsen, W. J., The Political and Social Theory of Max Weber: Collected Essays (Chicago, 1989)

Nelson, B., ‘Max Weber’s “Author’s Introduction” (1920): A Master Clue to His Main Aims’, Sociological Inquiry, 44:4 (1974), 269-78

Oakes, G., `The Verstehen Thesis and the Foundations of Max Weber’s Methodology’, History & Theory, 16 (1977), 11-29

Parkin, F., Max Weber (Chichester, 1982)

Razzell, P., ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: A Natural Scientific Critique’, British Journal of Sociology, 28:1 (1977), 17-37

Thomas, P., ‘Being Max Weber’, New Left Review, 41 (Sept-Oct 2006), 147-58

Turner, B. S., Max Weber: From History to Modernity (London, 1992), chs.1-3

More Specialised Studies: Weber and the Historians:

Bendix, R., ‘The Protestant Ethic Revisited’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 9:3 (1967), 266-73

Dickson, T. & McLachlan, H. V., `In Search of “The Spirit of Capitalism”: Weber's Misinterpretation of Franklin’, Sociology, 23: 1 (1989), 81-89.

Ghosh, P., `Max Weber’s Idea of “Puritanism”: A Case Study in the Empirical Construction of the Protestant Ethic’, History of European Ideas 29 (2003), 183-221

Ghosh, P., ‘Not the Protestant Ethic? Max Weber at St Louis’, History of European Ideas, 31 (2005), 367-407

Green, R. W. (ed.), Protestantism and Capitalism: The Weber Thesis and its Critics (Lexington MASS, 1959)

Hennis, W., ‘Max Weber's “Central Question”’, Economy and Society, 12 (1983), 135-80 [reprinted in Hennis, Max Weber's Central Question (London, 2000), 3-51

Hill, C., `Protestantism and the Rise of Capitalism’, in F. J. Fisher (ed.), Essays in the Economic and Social History of Tudor and Stuart England (London, 1961), 15-39. Short version in Landes, D. (ed.), The Rise of Capitalism (New York, 1966), 41-52.

Hughes, H. S., Consciousness and Society: The Reorientation of European Social Thought, 1890-1930 (London, 1959), chs 6 & 8

Jacob, M. C. & Kadane, M., `Missing, Now Found in the Eighteenth Century: Weber's Protestant Capitalist’, American Historical Review, 108:1 (2003), 20-49.

Kaelber, L., ‘Weber’s Lacuna: Medieval Religion and the Roots of Rationalisation’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 57:3 (1996), 465-85

Kolko, G., `Max Weber on America: Theory and Evidence’, History & Theory, 1 (1961), 243-260

Lamont, W., `Puritanism and Capitalism’, in W. Lamont, Puritanism and Historical Controversy (London, 1996), 103-28

Lehmann, H., & Roth, G. (eds), Weber's Protestant Ethic: Origins, Evidence, Contexts (Cambridge, 1993), esp. chs 9-11, 15

Luthy, H., ‘Variations on a Theme by Max Weber’, in M. Prestwich (ed.), International Calvinism, 1541-1715 (Oxford, 1985), 369-90

MacKinnon, M.`H., `Calvinism and the Infallible Assurance of Grace: The Weber Thesis Reconsidered’, British Journal of Sociology, 39 (1988), 143-77

MacKinnon, M. H., `Weber’s Exploration of Calvinism: The Undiscovered Provenance of Capitalism’, British Journal of Sociology, 39 (1988), 78-210

Marshall, G., In Search of the Spirit of Capitalism: An Essay on Max Weber's Protestant Ethic Thesis (Aldershot, 1982)

Mather, R., `The Protestant Ethic Thesis: Weber’s Missing Psychology’, History of the Human Sciences, 18:1 (2005), 1-16

Ormrod, D., `R. H. Tawney and the Origins of Capitalism’, History Workshop Journal, 18 (1984), 138-59

Ringer, F., `Max Weber on Causal Analysis, Interpretation, and Comparison’, History & Theory, 41 (2002), 163-178

Roth, G., `History and Sociology in the Work of Max Weber’, British Journal of Sociology (1976), 306-18; expanded in G. Roth & W. Schluchter, Max Weber's Vision of History: Ethics and Methods (Berkeley, 1979), pt. II, 119-206

Sprinzak, E., ‘Weber’s Thesis as an Historical Explanation’, History & Theory, 11 (1972), 294-320

Tawney, R. H., Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (London, 1926)

Trevor-Roper, R. H., `Religion, the Reformation and Social Change’, in Trevor-Roper, Religion, the Reformation and Social Change and Other Essays (London, 1967), 1-45

Weber and (Some of) His Sources:

Baxter, R. The Autobiography of Richard Baxter, being the Reliquiae Baxterianae, ed. J. M. Lloyd

Thomas ( orig. pub. 1658; London, 1931. Many other modern editions; also seventeenth- and eighteenth-century editions in EEBO and in ECCO)

Bunyan, J., The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come (1678). (Available in multiple forms; find seventeenth- and eighteenth-century editions in EEBO and ECCO; full text available in LION)

Franklin, B., The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (orig. pub. France 1790; 1st Eng.

Edn 1791); find a copy at (You are directed here to ch.6, Weber’s main source in The Protestant Ethic. It’s actually fun to read the rest – which Weber certainly did.)

Jordan, M., Milton and Modernity. Politics, Masculinity and `Paradise Lost’ (Basingstoke, 2000)

Milton, J., Paradise Lost (1667) Available in multiple forms; find seventeenth- and eighteenth-century editions in EEBO and ECCO; full text available in LION