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Encyclopedia > The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism

The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Budhism also known as just the The Religion of India is a book written by Maximilian Weber, a German economist and sociologist in the early twentieth century. Note that the original edition was in German. An English translation was made in 1958 and several editions have been released since then.

It was his third major work on the sociology of religion, after The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism. In this work he deals with the structure of Indian society, with the orthodox doctrines of Hinduism and the heterodox doctrines of Buddhism, then with modifications brought by the influence of popular religiosity and finally with the impact of religious beliefs on the secular ethic of Indian society.


The Hindu Social System

The Indian social system was throughoutly influenced by the concept of caste. It directly linked religious belief and the segregation of society into status groups. Weber describes the caste system (the Brahmins - priests, the Kshatriyas - warriors, the Vaisyas - merchants, the Sudras - laborers and the untouchables). Then he describes the spread of caste system in India due to conquests, marginalisation of certain tribes and the subdivision of casts.

Weber pays special attention to Brahmins and considers why did they occupied the highest place in Indian society for many centuries. With regards to the concept of dharma he concludes that the Indian ethical plurarism is very different both from the universal ethic of Confucianism and Christianity. He notes that the caste system prevented the development of urban status groups.

Hindu Orthodoxy and Brahmin Restoration

After the structure of the society, Weber analysed the Hindu religious beliefs - ascetism and the Hindu view of the world, the Brahman orthodox doctrines, the rise and fall of Buddhism in India, the Hindu restoration and the evolution of guru.

Secular Ethic and Impact of Hindu Beliefs on Economy

Weber studies if the Hinduism and Buddhism had any influence upon the daily round of mundane activities, and if so, how they impacted the economic conduct. He noted the idea of immutable world order consisting of the eternal cycles of rebirth, and the deprecation of mundane world. By the tradisionalism of the caste system supported by the religion, the economic development is slowed - as Weber said, the "spirit" of the caste system militated against an indigeneous development of capitalism.

Asian Belief Systems

Weber concluded his research of society and religion in India by combining his discoveries with his previous work on China. He notes that the beliefs tended to interpret the meaning of life in form of some otherwoldy mystical experience, the intellectuals tended to be apolitical in their orientation and the social world is fundamentally divided between the educated, whose lifes are oriented toward the exemplary conduct of a prophet or wise man, and the uneducated masses who remain caught in the daily rounds and belief in magic. In Asia, no Messianic prophecy appeared that could have given plan and meaning to the everyday life of educated and uneducated alike.

He argued that it was the Messianic prophecies in the this countries of the Near East - as distinguished from the exemplary prophecy of the Asiatic mainland - that prevented the countries of the Occident from following the paths of development marked out by China and India, and his next work, Ancient Judaism was an attempt to prove this theory.

See also



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