Turner Price of Piety

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Introduction: the price of piety A special issue of Contemporary Islam on Piety, Politics and Islam Bryan S. Turner Published online: 8 February 2008 # Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2007 Keywords Islam . Max Weber . Piety . Rituals of intimacy . Virtue . Women The relationship between religion and economics, or more narrowly between religion and entrepreneurship, has been, perhaps counter intuitively, a more or less persistent theme of the history of the sociology of
  Introduction: the price of piety A special issue of Contemporary Islam on Piety,Politics and Islam Bryan S. Turner Published online: 8 February 2008 # Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2007 Keywords  Islam.MaxWeber .Piety.Ritualsofintimacy.Virtue.WomenThe relationship between religion and economics, or more narrowly between religionand entrepreneurship, has been, perhaps counter intuitively, a more or less persistent theme of the history of the sociology of religion. In thinking about economics andentrepreneurship we probably somewhat automatically think about economic innova-tion and risk-taking behaviour along the lines classically suggested by economicsociologists like Joseph Schumpeter. In addition we probably equally automaticallythink of connecting economic entrepreneurship and religion through Max Weber  ’ s  The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism  (2002). In 1911 in  The Theory of   Economic Development  , Schumpeter (1961) defined entrepreneurship as the creativecombination of factors of production into new commodities or markets, and heconsequently regarded the growth of state bureaucracy and regulation of the economyas anathema to this creative drive towards new combinations By contrast, Weber sawadvanced capitalism as less dependent on entrepreneurial creativity and moredependent on legal security, administrative efficiency and predictable bankingconditions for long-term credit. When we consider Weber  ’ s account pf capitalismand Puritanism, we think of rational Puritan asceticism as a driving force behindcapitalist accumulation. Against Schumpeter, Weber  ’ s emphasis in the Protestant Ethicwas more about the rational organisation of everyday life according to a Protestant calling and less about the idea of risk-taking activities and innovative behaviour.This interpretation is of course the conventional account of Weber; it is probablyaccurate, but it is not entirely interesting. In my introduction to this special collectionof articles, I want to suggest that we should rethink Weber  ’ s comparative studies of religion as a contribution to the sociology of different patterns of piety in the world Cont Islam (2008) 2:1  –  6DOI 10.1007/s11562-007-0034-7B. S. Turner ( * )Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore,469A Tower Block, #10-01, Bukit Timah Road,Singapore 259770, Singaporee-mail:  religions and how those forms of piety shaped the cultural values of the life world of various societies. If we interpret Weber through the framework of Wilhelm Hennis ’ s ‘ essays in reconstruction ’ , then Weber  ’ s sociology can be regarded as thecomparative study of   ‘  personality and life orders ’  (Hennis 1988). From this perspective, Protestantism inculcated a set of virtues (or piety) that shaped the personality and the life orders of Puritans through training in religious excellence. Iemploy the idea of   ‘ religious excellence ’  here in order to anticipate a subsequent reference to Aristotle for whom virtue is a state of character in which excellence has been achieved in a particular sphere such as morality, warfare or the gymnasium. If manly heroism is the excellence of the warrior, then we can for the time being regard piety as excellence in religious activities.We can interpret   The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism  as a tragicnarrative about religious piety in which the measurement of religious excellence isessentially hidden from view. In Weber  ’ s terms, the tragic fate of pious Puritans wasthat they became, contrary to their known intentions, successful capitalists (Turner 1996). The problem of piety is how to know one possesses it. The success of piety isin some sense ineffable and hence its measurement can only be indirect. In the caseof the most radical forms of predestinarian Calvinism, the faithful could never knowwhether their piety was enough to guarantee salvation and hence they came todepend on worldly success as a proxy measure of their inner worth and their ultimateElection into the Kingdom of Heaven. The rational life world of the Protestant sectshad, according to Weber, the unintended consequence of creating wealth because thesuccessful Protestant abstained from immediate consumption and instead investedhis (or occasionally her) wealth in future-oriented projects. We can, with somefreedom of interpretation, also read Weber as saying that the Protestant system of  piety was a mechanism of personal control that brought about a modernization of norms and practices by providing new standards of rational behaviour that challenged traditional ways of behaving in the everyday world.Protestantism or more generally piety movements are culturally creative. Theytypically involve the destruction or overcoming of many traditional or taken-for-granted ways of practicing religion. They involve either a new emphasis on religious practices or the invention of practices that are then claimed to be orthodox, or moreexactly orthoprax. Piety tends to have a radical impact on the everyday world of  believers by encouraging devotees to change their habits or in the language of modern sociology to transform their habitus or their dispositions and tastes towardsthe material world. Piety is about the construction of definite and distinctive lifestyles of new religious tastes and preferences. In short, piety or the pietization of theeveryday world has these Schumpeter-like characteristics of combining newelements to create a religious habitus that stands in competition with other possiblecombinations in a competitive religious context. These new combinations are thendefined as the orthodox standards by which the worth of a good Christian or a goodMuslim could be measured.This Weberian narrative regarding Puritanism was therefore deeply paradoxicalsince a movement to abstain from this-worldly activity (through abstinence and self control) produced a rational, modern world that in Weber  ’ s view was also deeplysecular bringing about, as he claimed, the disenchantment of the world (  Entzauberung der Welt  ). We can in this respect easily recast Weber  ’ s sociology of piety into a 2 Cont Islam (2008) 2:1  –  6  modern idiom for example in the language of Michel Foucault (1997) arguing that  piety is  par excellence  a technology of the self designed to produce religiousexcellence or virtues. Being virtuous or pious can be effectively measured bycontrast to those who are impious or lacking in virtue. There is therefore acompetition over virtue  –   who in a given community is the most virtuous and howcan that be measured and known? The central paradox of piety is however that todisplay it openly  –   we might say to provocatively flaunt piety  –   is to demonstrate itsvery inauthenticity. To show piety publicly is to destroy it, and hence piety must besubtly insinuated and suggested by indirect comparisons with those lacking inreligious virtue. In Weber  ’ s scheme, however, piety necessarily creates hierarchies of religious virtue in the form of pious status groups that are defined by their successfulcombinations of orthodox practices.Within this competitive struggle over virtue, there is a hierarchy of virtuousvalues and practices which Weber expressed in terms of the distinction betweenvirtuoso and mass religion in  The Sociology of Religion  (1965). Whereas the virtuosiadhere to the full range of orthodox demands, especially the moral demands of religion, the mass are always oriented towards this worldly needs, primarily healthand wealth. This essentially secular demand for security and sustenance fromreligious practice rather than a meaningful life or spiritual perfection is, for Weber, acorruption of the religious drive. However, the needs of the masses for mere survivalare too pressing and too urgent to allow individuals time or motivation to engagewith the demands of religious virtuosity. They want magical solutions to hunger anddisease rather than an abstract theodicy of suffering. Religion for Weber is thereforea site of cultural struggles in which religious institutions are constantly purified bycharismatic prophets and constantly compromised by the mundane needs of themasses (Bourdieu 1987). This struggle is perhaps most clearly illustrated in his  The Religion of India  (1958) in the contrast between the ascetic standards of TheravadaBuddhism for mendicant monks and the secular needs for success which arecaptured in popular Buddhism. In terms of this dialectic between high and lowreligion, the true piety of the elite is measured by its apparent separation from themagical practices that characterise popular religion.This basic distinction also becomes the occasion for another more precise contrast  between the  ‘ contemplative-orgiastic ’  virtuosity of Buddhism and Jainism on the onehand and the  ‘ activist-ascetic ’  virtues of Protestantism on the other (Silber  1995). Inthe former, activity in the mundane world is inferior to the life of contemplation andhence there opens up a chasm between the lifestyle of the monk and the everydaylife of the laity. Given this separation, how does interaction between monk andlayperson take place? Let me quote this lengthy statement from Weber  ’ s famousessay  ‘ The Social Psychology of the World Religions ’ : With such religions, a deepabyss separates the way of life of the layman from that of the community of virtuosos. The rule of the status groups of religious virtuosos over the religiouscommunity readily shifts into a magical anthropolatry; the virtuoso is directlyworshipped as a saint, or at least laymen buy his blessing and his magical powers asa means of promoting mundane success or religious salvation (Weber  1991: 289).Charisma is according to Weber necessarily in short supply and hence it has a price that is driven by the economics of scarcity. Because religious goods (servicesand objects) are limited, there is a spiritual market for religious goods as there is for  Cont Islam (2008) 2:1  –  6 3  any  ‘ good ’  that is in demand but of limited supply. Because these charismatic blessings are demanded by laypeople, there is a religious market in whichcharismatic values circulate. As with other goods, there are in principle problemsof inflation, over valuation and excess production. For example in many Muslimsocieties that have been influenced by revivalism (da ’ wa), there is a tendency for more and more goods and services to come under the classification of acceptable and proscribed (between  halal   and  haram ).In his comparative sociology of piety, Weber distinguished between thosereligions that reject the world by challenging its traditions (such as inner-worldlyasceticism) and religions that seek to escape from the world through mystical flight (such as other-worldly mysticism). The former religions (primarily the Calvinisticradical sects) have had revolutionary consequences for human society in theformation of rational capitalism. The implication of this tradition is paradoxical.Weber derived this classification from Kant  ’ s 1793 analysis of the true religiouscalling as a moral vocation as opposed to merely ritual behaviour in  Religion withinthe Boundaries of Mere Reason  (Kant  1998). In this Kantian scheme, Christianity (or at least Puritanism) is the only true religion (as a reflecting faith) since Kant regardedcultic religions as mere magic and secondly Christianity gives rise to a process of secularisation that spells out its own self-overcoming (  Aufhebung  ). The Puritanvirtuoso has as it were to stand on his own two feet   –   rejecting ritual and consultingdirectly with divinity without intermediaries. Kant, making morality central to truereligion, made religion as reflecting faith perfectly compatible with Enlightenment rationality since Kant had defined enlightenment as precisely throwing off childishthings such as dependence on magic. Through this framework of religion as moralityin action, both Kant and Weber made religion not only compatible with modernity but its driving force.We might note therefore that both Kant and Weber embraced some notion of thesecularisation of the modern world as the unintended consequence of therationalization of piety. It is well known that the dominant assumptions in the studyof religion from Weber to contemporary sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu andLuc Boltanski have been that the modern world is secular and will remain so.Therefore, the new piety movements represent an interesting challenge to the secular assumptions of mainstream sociology. In this special issue, several articles  –   for example Rachel Rinaldo on Indonesia and Joy Tong and Bryan Turner on Malaysia  –  draw freely on Bourdieu ’ s sociology of practice and habitus, recognising at the sametime that Bourdieu had relatively little to say directly about religion. Bourdieu(1987) essentially followed Weber in claiming that the main function of religionhistorically was to legitimize the power of the state. There is little however inBourdieu ’ s work as a whole that is directly addressed to religion despite the fact that his notions of field and cultural competition has a direct bearing on the idea of religious markets (Rey 2004). In their account of piety, Tong and Turner also drawextensively in the recent work of Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thevenot (2006) inorder to pose two questions: how is piety measured and how are inequalities in piousstatus justified?One perennial problem which I want to address in this introduction is how pietycan be measured  –   what is the price of piety? In trying to provide an answer to thisquestion, I argue the religious revival which we witness in Islam worldwide is a 4 Cont Islam (2008) 2:1  –  6
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