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Calvinism and the Protestant Ethic

Calvinism and the Protestant Ethic

Author: Paul Hannan

Examine the concepts of the Protestant Ethic and predestination.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Europe Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology, Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on Calvinism and the Protestant Ethic. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So today, we're going to be looking at Calvinism and the Protestant Ethic. But really, these are just two examples of how religion and social change can work together in sociology. So let's give some historical context so we can learn about Calvinism first.

So I have a picture of Europe there. We're going to be taking ourselves back in time, looking at the Protestant Reformation. Now, this is a period in European history, about 500 years ago. And this was after the Renaissance, and this is where people are starting to challenge the Catholic Church.

Before the Protestant Reformation, it was basically if you were a Christian, you were Catholic. Then Martin Luther came about and he nailed his 95 theses on a church door, and other different Protestant leaders came up and they all had different takes on Christianity. And John Calvin was one of them.

So John Calvin was this influential thinker, and he came up with the idea of Calvinism. Now, Calvinism has many different aspects for the Protestant religion and as a religion on its own. But the important thing for us here in sociology about Calvinism is two different aspects.

The first one is that it advanced the idea of predestination. Predestination, pre- and then destination, OK? Put that in religious context, one's salvation is predetermined. So before you do anything in your life, it's already decided whether or not you're going to heaven or hell. That's what predestination was.

That's a pretty powerful statement and a pretty different way from looking at society and looking at living. So what kind of effect did that have on society? Well, in a lot of ways, Calvinists were then freed to focus on living life the way they wanted to. Since one's salvation is predetermined, as they lived out their life, they really focused on this idea of just working hard to work hard, and really getting more material wealth and reinvesting it and being able to build something up for yourself.

So what does that, again, do with sociology? Well, Max Weber is a famous sociologist, mentioned here many times in my tutorials. And he wrote this book called The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. And what he argued was that the Protestant Ethic, or maybe you've harder heard it call the Protestant Work Ethic-- sorry, and this means that it's just Protestants champion hard work, frugality, and labor-- that this really came out of predestination, and specifically this ethic, so this thing that came about from this religious organization, this institution of religion, actually changed society and helped support and spread capitalism.

So just to be clear, predestination in many ways produced the Protestant Work Ethic. People's fate in heaven or hell is already determined, and only God knows who is headed to which. So society turned to prosperity as a sign of predestination. If someone was wealthy and successful, then God must love them. And if God loves them, then they must be headed to heaven.

Well, according to Calvinism, we can't determine our faith-- we can't determine our fate in heaven or hell. But by working hard, we can become prosperous. So the Protestant Work Ethic was born out of striving to show that God looks favorably on you.

Protestants then-- well, they're supposed to work hard. They're supposed to be frugal, and they're supposed to value working. Well, those are all things that fit really well with capitalism. So Weber said that capitalism-- society changed to support capitalism, in a lot of ways, with the help of Calvinism and the Protestant Reformation.

So today's take away message. John Calvin was an influential thinker from the Protestant Reformation, and he advanced the idea of predestination. And predestination was that idea that people decided whether or not they were going to heaven or hell before they did anything. It was predetermined.

Max Weber is a famous sociologist with many different contributions throughout sociology. But specifically here today, we looked at the Protestant Ethic. And he connected the Protestant Ethic of Protestant working really hard and frugally and valuing labor, and how that really contributed to the success of capitalism.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully, you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Protestant Ethic

An ethos born of Calvinism that champions hard work, frugality, material prosperity, and disciplined labor in a calling as pleasing to God.

People to Know
John Calvin

John Calvin was an influential thinker of the Protestant Reformation who advanced the idea of predestination and founded Calvinism. The doctrine of predestination asserts that either one's salvation in heaven, or condemnation in hell, has been predetermined by God before they are born.

Max Weber

Hugely influential, founding sociologist who argued that the ideas of Calvinism, specifically predestination, imbued people in society with a strong work ethic such that traditional attitudes towards work and labor were replaced by a capitalist orientation towards work.