Skip to main content

Max Weber and World-denying Love: A Look at the Sociology of Religion

WHEN: Thursday, October 30, 1997 at 7:30 PM.
WHERE: Mandeville Auditorium at UCSD.

The speaker is Robert N. Bellah, University of California, Berkeley.

"World-denying love" (Liebesakosimismus) is a key concept of Max Weber's sociology of religions, but one that sounds strange to modern ears. Weber believed that the great salvation religions of antiquity generalized an ethic of "brotherly" or "neighborly" love, characteristic of kinship groups, into an absolute love-ethic to be extended not only to kin and neighbors but to strangers and enemies. This ethic was given such priority over all worldly claims that it devalued all spheres of life governed by norms other than absolute love.

Modern life, on the other hand, according to Weber, is characterized by a "differentiation of the value spheres," such that economics and politics, as well as aesthetic, erotic, and intellectual forms of life, all either offer alternative forms of salvation or adopt other standards than an ethic of absolute love, none of which can be reconciled with any other.

Professor Bellah's talk concludes with some questions as to whether Weber's pessimistic belief in the inevitability of ethical chaos in the modern age is justified.