Max Weber – pioneer of sociology

Max Weber turned sociology into a modern science – and his ideas still have an impact today.

Max Weber is one of Germany’s most famous social scientists. Even today he is one of the most frequently quoted sociologists. For decades, scientists have been analysing and discussing his book on the relationship between religion and capitalism: “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”. Almost 100 years after his death, his works – descriptions of the modern world – are still being read, translated and re-interpreted again and again all over the world. Even people who have never had much to do with Max Weber are likely to know a few of his statements, suspects the weekly newspaper Die Zeit: for example that politics is like “drilling through hard boards” and takes “passion and a sense of proportion” – a quote from his legendary lecture “Politics as a Vocation” delivered in 1919.

Max Weber liked to cross the traditional borders between subjects. His research spanned the historical, cultural, economic and social sciences. His creative diversity was also influenced by the interdisciplinary circles of scholars in the university town of Heidelberg where he worked as a professor for many years. This and much more information is provided by Weber expert Jürgen Kaube in his biography, published in the anniversary year, on this German scholar’s fascinating work and life. Certainly, people in Heidelberg thought – and even lived – in ways that were outside the mainstream.

Weber is respected worldwide

Maximilian Carl Emil Weber was born on 21 April 1864 in Erfurt, Thuringia, as “a member of the bourgeois class,” as he himself emphasized. Weber studied law, economics, philosophy and history in Berlin at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, today’s Humboldt-Universität, from 1882 to 1886. Later, as a professor, he was engaged in research and teaching in Berlin, Freiburg, Heidelberg and Munich. Politically he held nationalistic views for a long time, like many intellectuals of his time; but after the First World War he took up the cause of the left-liberal democrats.

Weber’s writings began having an international impact very early on: “In 1897 his writings on the stock exchange, published in 1894 and 1896, were already translated into Russian. Since then his works have appeared in many languages,” according to the Max Weber Foundation. This humanities research organization has analysed the reception of Weber’s works in detail. In the past few years, for example, a new generation of researchers in Japan has been studying Weber’s outstanding sociological ideas, which are still having an impact over 100 years later.

150th birthday of Max Weber on 21 April


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