Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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Innovated by Max Weber to conceptualize in nondeterministic fashion the coincident interaction of components from different sociocultural systems in comparative analysis. The specific case study that is the quintessential example in Weber's work is The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Scribner 1930 [1904-1905]). According to Weber, there was an elective affinity between Puritan ethical norms and emerging capitalist business practices in seventeenth-century England; later theorists have extended this to include the political position of Puritan partisans. In other words, a particular economic status along with a particular political status along with a particular religious practice all coincide in such a way that each is especially favorable to the other, and the whole form a culture complex (or civilizational complex) that is especially powerful for the advancement of all of these sociocultural spheres combined—this is what Weber means by the spirit of capitalism. Elective affinity is not restricted to the single case, however, and can be considered a general theory of social change; that is, when this favorable coincidence of sociocultural spheres occurs, there can be a quantum leap forward (or backward) on the part of a sociocultural system.

William H. Swatos, Jr .

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