Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the ‘spirit’ of Capitalism (1905): A Centennial Essay


  • Mervyn F. Bendle James Cook University



This article explores the publication of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the ‘spirit’ of Capitalism (hereafter PESC) in 1905. One of the great masterpieces in the study of religion and sociology, Weber’s argument has penetrated deeply into the scholarly and popular culture of the West, proving to be one of the most influential insights into role of religion and the nature of modernity, and an inspiration for a vast amount of academic work, either expanding Weber’s argument or contesting it. In exploring the century-long influence of PESC this article first describes PESC and Weber’s influence, noting some important applications and criticisms. It then explores the background of Weber’s argument in PESC in terms of two factors: (1) the shared interests of a group of talented scholars at a time of unprecedented political crisis in German and European history; and (2) the crisis in Weber’s personal and emotional life. Finally, it turns to a discussion of how Weber’s work on PESC illuminates the inner world of modernity.

Author Biography

Mervyn F. Bendle, James Cook University

Mervyn F. Bendle PhD is Senior Lecturer in History and Communications in the School of Humanities at James Cook University. His interests lie principally in comparative religion, social theory, psychoanalysis, and cultural studies. Recent publications include: Jouissance Right off the Scale: Lacan, Sexual Difference and the Phallic Order, Culture, Theory and Critique (forthcoming 2005); Everyday Terrorism: Civil Society and its Enemies, Australian Journal of Politics and History (forthcoming 2005); Militant Religion and the Crisis of Modernity, Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion 14 (2003); Global Jihad and the Battle for the Soul of Islam, ARSR 16(2) (2003); Reflexive Spirituality and Metanoia in High Modernity, ARSR 16(1) (2003); Trajectories of Anti-Globalism, Journal of Sociology 38(3) (2002); and The Crisis of Identity in High Modernity, British Journal of Sociology 53(1) (2002).


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How to Cite

Bendle, M. F. (2005). Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the ‘spirit’ of Capitalism (1905): A Centennial Essay . Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 18(2), 235–250.