Modernity, Meaning, and Cultural Pessimism in Max Weber
Author(s): Steven Seidman
Source: Sociological Analysis, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Winter, 1983), pp. 267-278 Published by: Association for the Sociology of Religion, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3711610
Accessed: 11/03/2009 01:53
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Sociological nalysis1983, 44, 4:267-278
State University f New Yorkat Albany
intellectual mporBeginning rom the assumptionhat classicalworksretaina contemporary f
tance,thispaperexamines eber's iewson modernitynd theproblem f meaning. hepaperaro t
gues that althoughWebermaintained hatneitherreligion orscience ieldsbeliefsystems f a soy o
antimodernismf cultural escially unifyingnature,he did not subscribeo the one-dimensional o
simistsor the existentialist ilemmaof an absurdexistence.Weber's erspective n modernitys d
shownto be a liberalversionof valuepluralism nd decisionism. a
Contrary to what the Whiggish notion of scientificprogresswould lead us to believe, contemporary sociological analysis has not so much superseded past sociological thought as elaborated,revised, and thereby sustainedits present importance.The classical tradition continues to structurecurrent theoretical and researchdebates. From this perspective,reading classicalworks takes on a new significance:the analysisof classical texts is not only of historical interest but is often an exercise in theoretical innovation or, at least, a practice embedded in present intellectualproblems (cf. Alexander, 1983; Seidman, 1983).
The contemporary intellectual status of the classical tradition is nowhere more evident than in recent theoretical reflection and researchon religion, values, identity, and freedom in modernity. It is hardly an exaggerationto say that the main theoreticalperspectivesthat inform currentresearchon problemsof meaning and freedomin modernity stem from the works of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber. We need only referto the revitalization of the sociology of religion which reflects,on the one hand, the incorporation of the Weberian viewpoint in the works, for example, of Peter Berger(1967), Thomas Luckmann (1967) and Bryan Wilson (1976) and, on the other hand, the reworkingof the Durkheimian legacy around the theme of civil religion (e.g. Bellah 1975; Parsons, 1974).
If the classical tradition is pivotal in contemporarysociology then why the need for this analysisof Weber'sviews on modernityand the problemof meaning?There are two t
justifications for examining Weber'sworks. First, although the "neo-Weberians"ake Weber'swritings...
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