Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, Vol 24, No 2 (2011)

Max Weber's Ghosts: Recovering the Spirit of Secularisation

Demelza Marlin
Issued Date: 18 Oct 2011


This article re-evaluates sociologist Max Weber’s contributions to ongoing debates about secularisation. Weber is uniformly considered to be one of the founding authors of the secularisation thesis. However, a careful analysis of his use of the tropes of haunting, prophecy and the concept of ‘the gift’, in two of his most widely read texts—‘Science as Vocation’ and The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism—shows us that instead of afrming the decline of religion in modernity, Weber’s work actually attests to curious dependence between the spiritual and the material, the religious and the secular and the enchanted and disenchanted. This revelation is used to highlight some oversights in more recent scholarship on postmodern ‘re-enchantment’ and the ‘religious revitalisation’ of the postindustrial Western world. It argues that it is not only in postmodernity that evidence of the alliance between the enchanted and disenchanted can be found, but also in the ostensibly secular culture of modernity described by ‘founding fathers’ like Weber.

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DOI: 10.1558/arsr.v24i2.175


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