Max Weber’s view on economy and religion can be understood through his work “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” (1904/1930). According to him, religious ideas, beliefs and values has a major role in the economy of any society. He believed that economy is led by religion. While doing so he studied the Calvinist sect of Protestant Christians and their work ethic. He also asserted that Capitalism was greatly favored by Calvinism as both had the primary motive of making profit and reinvesting it. On the otherhand, religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism are based on ‘other worldly asceticism’. They acknowledge connection to the Universe, the spiritual power and the beyond. These religions are based on traditionalism, family obligations and nature-worshipping. However, at present many Eastern nations are the leading economies of the world and have favored the growth of capitalism along culturally and religiously favored scenarios. This article further looks into how relevant is the Protestant Work Ethic and the development of capitalism among different religious groups.

Max Weber Views on Economy on Religion

Maximilian Karl Emil Weber (April 21, 1864-June 14, 1920) one of the classical scholars of sociology was of German origin. His area of study is wide and comprehensive thus contributing to the comparative analysis of world religions, the formation of bureaucracy and the rise of modern society. Weber read a great deal in theology and so became one of the exponents of sociology of religion.  Apart from the academic field, Weber had also contributed in German politics where his lectures on politics and science were positively received by the people. His essay ‘Politics as a Vocation’ which he delivered as a part of lecture series in Munich, 1919 is deemed as an exemplary work of political sociology. He had co-founded the liberal German Democratic Party. He was an advocate of interpretivism, individualism and multi-causal pluralism(any phenomenon can have more than one cause). Although initially influenced by Karl Marx another great economist and classical thinker of sociology, Weber later critically analyzed Marx’s economic thoughts which put him in a different view regarding social development. Having died at the age of fifty-six in 1920,  his unfinished project ‘Economy and Society’ were posthumously published by his wife.


Economy and religion are considered the two distinct aspects of society. With the growing advent of capitalism and capitalist societies all over the world, religious ideas and beliefs are not much considered. We all tend to believe that religion has the least influence on economic condition of any society. People have become more business oriented, thus giving little to no importance when it comes to religion. However, Weber had other notion regarding the relationship between religion and economy. In his most celebrated book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”(1905/1930) he gave us the detailed analysis on his views regarding economy and religion. Economy in simple terms means the financial condition of a given society. It includes the monetary values, profit and loss, exchange system and the production process. It is a materialistic aspect of society. On the other hand, religion is an interconnected system binding different individuals through common worship of gods and goddesses. It is more of a psychological and emotional attachment with the deity one worships or with the fellow adherents. Generally, the world religions are divided on the basis of the religion’s source of origin. Therefore, there are monotheistic religions with one source of origin or one God and there are polytheistic religions having more than one god. Every religion have their own set of ideas and beliefs which preserves their unique values and morals. Almost all religions have one thing in common and that is service to mankind. It is the way through which people perform their duties that makes them different from one religious group to another. In the following sections we will look how Weber went on to establish relationship between religion and economy which are otherwise considered as two distinct aspects of a society.


Taking Weber’s work into account we can see how he established the relationship between religious ideas and it’s impact on economy. In his work, he studied the Calvinist sect of Protestant Christians and their work life. Protestant Christians are those sect who had revolted against the Catholic clergymen of their Church and demanded rectifications. They believed that their religious leaders had become too imbued with rituals and doctrines. Initially started by John Calvin (1509-1564), the religion gained popularity all over Europe and later in America. The main ideology of Calvinists was to create the kingdom of God on earth. They believe that it is possible by working ardently and making profit. For them, money is an end in itself and thus the profit should be reinvested in order to beget more money. They also believe that each individual’s destiny is predetermined. Some will go to heaven and some will be damned. But they do not know their destiny, since God is not answerable to anyone. Therefore, in order to prove their worth they all work rationally and serve their religious ideas and values. This ideology was regarded as Protestant Ethic. Now, looking into such rational workforce, Weber realized that it is because of such work ethic that capitalism flourished among the Protestants. The capitalist system that demanded labour power along with investment was greatly favored by Calvinism. Also both Calvinism and Capitalism had the same primary motive of earning profit and reinvestment. In this way, Weber developed his theory which states that economy is led by religion.


Weber further went to compare different world religions in order to show how religion and economy is interrelated. He differentiated between the eastern and western world religions. Calvinism preaches that work is not just a profession but rather “the calling” from God himself. They do not believe in changing their destiny by performing various forms of rituals. Such religion is considered as “this or inner wordily asceticism”. In contrast, there are religions known as “other wordily asceticism” such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism which asserts that by conducting different rituals and religious practices, one can change or at least alter his or her destiny. These religions are based on traditionalism, family obligations and nature-worshipping. People belonging to these religions acknowledge connection to the universe, the spiritual power and the beyond. Especially, Hinduism believes in dharma, karma and punarjanma (reincarnation/cycle of births and deaths). This is apparent through the daily actions of businessmen who follow Hinduism as they regard customers as God and perform long rituals and recites prayers before receiving the first customer. Many Hindus believe that because of their previous life actions they are facing various problems in their present lives. Therefore, such religious faiths fails to motivate their followers to work hard in order to improve their conditions. Capitalism being profit making system where people and their religious values do not hold much importance failed to promote itself among such religious ideologies. While doing a comparative analysis of different world religions, Weber also wrote about Judaism in ancient Palestine. It is known through the history that Judaism also had the favourable condition for the development of capitalism but it was restrained due to the exodus of Jews and mass dispersal during the Nazi Germany reign.


Even many decades later, Weber’s work on economy and religion is still studied and considered by many scholars. It is to be noted that Weber being one of the proponents of multi-causal pluralism had stated that religion is not the only factor determining economy of the state. His work have faced criticisms on various grounds. If we follow Weber’s idea regarding Eastern world religions, then it would be correct to say that the nations majorly following other worldly religions have not developed economically. However this is far from the truth. Rather it can said that he has over emphasized on the traditionally aspects of those religions. It is true that not all capitalistic features are wholly appreciated in regard to religious values, but capitalism has developed along the culturally offered situations. For instance, South and East –Asian nations conforming to other worldly religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism have better results than predicted by Weber. India’s presidency of G20 forum being one of the fastest growing economy proves the significant achievements despite being the nation mostly following other-wordily asceticism. Countries such as India and China at present has favored capitalist economies with respective standpoints. Likewise, the South-West Asian nations today are the most developed and economically powerful nations in the world. Some intellectuals suggest that Protestant Work Ethic has been converted into universal work ethic and with the growing notion of individualism, this ethic is accepted accordingly. Lastly, Weber’s view on economy and religion still holds importance and is helpful when studying different religions. Hence, it can be said that the concept of ‘the calling’ and ‘predestination’ of Calvinists considerably benefited to obtain  disciplined workers who devoid themselves from worldly pleasures thus facilitating the growth of capitalism.


  • The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) / (Translated in 1930 by Talcott Parsons)
  • The Religion of China (1915/1951)
  • The Religion of India (1916/1958)
  • Science as a Vocation (1917)
  • Politics as a Vocation (1919)
  • Ancient Judaism and The City (1921/1952)
  • Economy and Society (1922/1968)
  • General Economic Society (1923/1927)


  1. Taber, C.A. (15 DECEMBER 2022). Economics Working Papers No. 71, Max Weber: On Religion and Economic Outcomes, Working Paper No. 71. Portland State University. :
  2. Ertman, T.C. (2017). Max Weber’s Economic Ethic of the World Religions: An Analysis. Cambridge University Press. 
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Pema Lamu Rumba is a guest lecturer at Sikkim Alpine University, passionate about inspiring through academia. With two months at the university, she teaches sociology, focusing on relevant standpoint perspectives. Pema believes in the power of knowledge, motivating herself and others to embrace learning. Currently, she's updating her computer skills. Beyond academics, she loves exploring cultures and languages.