Max Weber

Max Weber’ and Clifford Geertz’ Views on Religion Essay

January 21, 2022 by Essay Writer


Max Weber and Geertz offered varying ideas regarding cultural theory. They both viewed culture as people’s ways of doing things in society. Culture is usually developed over years whereby it is adopted and passed from one generation to the other through language. Regarding religion, which is one of the aspects of culture, Geertz and Weber offered a number of views. Some viewpoints are similar while others are different.

However, the two scholars believe that religion happens within a group implying that it is a group affair. In this regard, various groups have different religious principles and beliefs. Morality is the main principle that all religious groups and teachings espouse. Even though the two scholars agreed that religion happens at an individual level, they offered varying approaches to the understanding of group behavior. Weber noted that each religion is rational and consistent as far as its rules are concerned.

Unlike his predecessors such as Durkheim, Weber claimed in his works, ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ that religion could easily bring about change in society. His analysis was based on the spread of capitalism in Europe. He claimed that the Protestant abstemious self-confidence was attributed to the quick spread of capitalist ideals.

However, unlike Geertz, Weber did not intend to develop a cultural theory that would explain the dynamics of religion. His main aim was to discuss the interactions and interrelations between society and religion. On the other hand, Geertz perceived religion as a cultural system that is full of symbols, which have both public and social meaning.

People always construct their own beliefs meaning that each person has his or her own views concerning religion. Some groups have shared views regarding religion. Weber’s views were different from the ideas of Geertz because to him, religion had a different role to play in society. This article looks at some of the similarities and differences between the views of Weber and Geertz as regards to religion. The paper uses one aspect of culture to discuss their views.


Geertz undertook various studies in one of the villages in Javanese, which was one of the most complex religious societies. He sought to understand the reason that inspired people to worship the supernatural being in their daily lives. Other scholars had suggested a number of views regarding the topic, but he diverged from such views by noting that the issue of religion is not a group affair, but instead it is a social affair.

This implies that it happens within a particular society. Evans-Pritchard was one of the scholars who suggested that religion is simply a group attitude because it is developed to check the behavior of group members. Geertz rejected this subjective and vague view by adopting the ideas of Weber regarding the role of religion among the Protestants in Europe. Weber was of the view that religion is a phenomenon that starts at an individual level meaning that each person has his own belief.

These beliefs develop with time into complex ideas that are in turn adopted by a group of individuals in society. Once the belief is within the public domain, it turns out to be a social system that influences people’s behavior and interactions in the wider society. Since the behavior is learned and would be internalized for years, it becomes a cultural belief or a cultural system, given the fact that it can be transmitted from one individual to the other.

Weber had earlier noted that people are always in search of truth since a man is an animal that is suspended in webs of significance. In this regard, a man does not have to look for solutions on the Earth that would resolve the many issues facing him but, instead, he has to interpret society using some mystical principles. Offering simple explanations to religious beliefs is not enough implying that people should look for the real meaning of religious events.

To explain some of these religious events, clear interpretations should be given. Geertz was of the similar view because he noted that thick descriptions should be applied in interpreting religious events if adequate answers were to be provided. According to Geertz, the use of symbols in interpreting religious events is the only solution to the many problems affecting people as far as religious issues are concerned.

He noted that some symbols are always in use in religion. Therefore, the understanding of the use of these symbols is very important. Weber noted that the Protestants were able to engage in trade and other economic matters because their religion taught them that an individual’s destiny is always predetermined. Weber reached this decision after observing the behavior of Protestants for years.

He also used some of the symbols, which was the basis of Geertz’s analysis. Geertz suggested that an anthropologist should use empirical methods to interpret the behavior of a group or an individual as regards to religion. Weber had also suggested a similar view by noting that a sociologist should use technical methods such as guessing, assessing, and drawing conclusions as far as the understanding of religion is concerned.

Geertz and Weber believed in the semiotic interpretation of culture meaning that their major aim was to understand some of the factors that drive people to join certain cultures. In this regard, they both believed that the understanding of culture starts with the interpretation of certain elements and categorization of certain interactions. The whole system should be categorized into sub-subsystems if any substantial meaning is to be offered.

The system is characterized based on the major beliefs and principles meaning that there are various subsystems of culture in society. Each category of the subsystem has some of the principles that members respect so much. Geertz termed this aspect as a form of collective property. Geertz’s and Weber’s argument is that religion influences the actions of various group members because it is larger as compared to the actions of any individual in a group.


Even though the two scholars discussed extensively the issues surrounding religion, their aims were extremely different. While Geertz aimed at developing a cultural theory, Weber was simply trying to link religion to the behavior of individuals in society. For instance, Geertz noted that cultural theory is not its own master meaning that it relies on certain concepts just the way other theories do.

Therefore, the suggestion on thick description is meant to give anthropologists one of the ways in which cultural issues could be construed in society. For Weber, he was simply describing the influence that culture has on the economic behavior of certain groups in society. He utilized the Protestants to show that people are encouraged to do some things because of the influence of their culture. In one of the articles titled Deep Play, Geertz showed how thick description could be employed to comprehend the actions of certain groups.

While Weber viewed religion as an aspect of culture that has a great impact on the life of an individual in society, Geertz was of a different view because he believed that religion is a cultural system. This implies that no society can survive without religion. In his view, all symbols in any society signify the presence of religion. This system is constructed over time, which results in a powerful and pervasive motivation for individuals.

With time, people in any given society come to appreciate their culture and tend to believe that other cultures are inferior to theirs. The culture ensures that social order prevails in society because it regulates behavior. Weber was of the different view because he did not give a cultural function of religion but, instead, he only related it to the behavior of individuals in society. His major aim was to give the relationship between religion and society.

According to Geertz, religion is inseparable from culture because they are both systems of communication in any given society. However, Weber believed that the two concepts exist independently meaning that they are autonomous, but they influence each other. Geertz concluded his analysis by noting that a strong relationship between an individual’s worldview and morality exists.

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