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Lecture

Max Weber


Department
Sociology
Course Code
SOC250Y1
Professor
Joseph Bryant

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SOC250Y1- December 1, 2010 Lecture
Max Weber (1864-1920) The Historical Sociology of the World Religions
The historical-sociological tension: (Weber)
New religious movements typically begin in a sectarian mode of heroic or
virtuoso religiosity and zeal, but to become a powerful or stable social presence,
they must win over those less disposed to such intense religiosity, i.e., they must
“compromise” on the high principles and virtuoso standards to permit a mass or
popular following
THE MAKING OF OTHODOXY (i.e., what is the true message, the true teachings, the
requirements, etc.?) So, a protracted struggle over:
Sects- more of challenges, driven by higher needs of spirituality, early members enthusiastic
about living a more intense way but the difficulty for sects is that they seem to be more designed
for the sprint rather than the marathon (they can get going, bring in members, live intense
spiritual life but if they stay with the basic high demands characteristic of sects, they will remain
small, again because most people do not want to live spiritual modes of existence 24/7)
Successful sects thus move in the direction of becoming churches
- This sets the stage for a new upsurge of sect formation
- The successful again become churches…
Weber sees a general cyclical pattern, passing from tradition to a charismatic upsurge of rigor,
enthusiasm, zeal, which eventually leads to a new tradition, opening space for new charisma…
More church like- mass religious orientation sect becomes too corrupt? Too soft? assumed to
happen to sects with time which means they will challenge authorities
Case study of early Christianity
CHRISTIANITY
3 important movements
(1) Originates as a Sectarian reform movement within Judaism…. (2) Develops into a new
conversionist-salvationist cult religion…. (3) Eventually achieving imperial church
status
- Cult because focus on central figure Jesus- followers would have to submit
- During first 300 years of this movement it operated in conversionist Salvationist form
and Christianity was an illegal religion thus membership could cost your life

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- Influential convert- Constantine then Christianity becomes an imperial Church- rapidly
becomes a persecuting majority (once the church is allied to the imperial state, the new
church state alliance tries to persecute those part of old alliances or religions)
Source problems- no contemporary accounts of Jesus’ ministry or career, New Testament texts
are ex post facto “faith-based” accounts about a movement already in place, not history. The
Gospels and Epistles were written in a time where Christianity already formed in an early
pattern, thus the texts are not about the actual beginnings of the movement but rather the early
patterns. Thus it is hard to use scriptures to reconstruct religions.
- New Testament writings “fulfill” the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures, ~ imitative
modeling (some 400 direct quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures in their Greek
translation- the Septuagint). Christian writings written in the frame of the OT so Early
Christian writers have already read the OT or Hebrew scriptures- thus what Jesus did
fulfilled prophecies of OT this raises a crucial question: “Are these accounts which
showed Jesus fulfilling prophecies of earlier writings simply imitations of early writings
or did Jesus actually fulfill them?
- If believer you would say they are a copy of OT because Jesus fulfilled them
- But if a sceptic- the Christian writings wrote texts to make it look like Jesus fulfilled
prophecies
Historical context: from Pompey’s conquest of the region in 63 BCE, the Jews were under
Roman control, previously Assyrian conquest 722, Babylonian 586, then Cyrus and his Persian
empire, in 535 (rebuilding of Second Temple in Jerusalem, dedicated in 515), Alexander the
Great (d. 324) and his Successors, Maccabean revolt & Hasmonean dynasty. Romans ruling
through puppet kings, preferred local rulers. The Roman conquest was only the latest of a series
the Jews experienced Important because covenant between Jewish people and God in
exchange they would be given holy land- terms of agreement meant any form of foreign
domination raised very serious theological questions. The prophets said Israel lost position
because people did not follow Commandments, thus blamed people for not obeying covenant.
Jewish covenantal monotheism could not easily accommodate foreign domination and exhibited
strong opposition to polytheism idolatry
Political element- convenant and exclusive loyalty to God (Commandment) and in exchange to
have holy land
Berith, a “covenant” between a people and “a/the” God: “I will take you to me for a people, and I
will be to you a God” Exodus 6:7- God also promises “all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting
possession: Genesis 17.8
- Foreign domination thus generated ongoing religio-political tensions:
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