Islam, Capitalism and the Weber Theses
Over the last half century a substantial tradition of Weberian scholarship has developed in Europe which is focused on elaborate analyses of Weber’s exploration of the relationship between religion and capitalism. Naturally, this scholarship has involved examinations of Weber’s basic contrast between the European tradition of Puritan asceticism and the mystical ethics of Asian religions. One consequence of this dominant sociological tradition has been a relative neglect of Weber’s treatment of Islam. The exceptions include the work of Maxime Rodinson (1966), Ernest Gellner (1963), Sami Zubaida (1972) and Robert Bocock (1971). Although Weber died before completing his sociology of religion with a full study of Islam, his comments on early Islam and his more elaborate inquiry into Islamic law are sufficiently interesting to warrant more close inspection than they have hitherto received. As a prophetic, egalitarian, salvation religion with close derivation from Judaism and Christianity, Islam is a significant test of Weber’s thesis on asceticism and rational economic activity. Before turning to Weber’s argument that Islam was not a salvation religion, it will be useful to clarify the kaleidoscopic interpretations which exist concerning Weber’s analysis of religion and capitalism.