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Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  228 ratings  ·  27 reviews
With 'Religion and the Rise of Capitalism', R.H. Tawney addresses the questions of how religion has affected social and economic practices since the Middle Ages.
Paperback, 339 pages
Published November 12th 2006 by Hesperides Press (first published 1926)
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Mar 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Any serious student of history or of Christian thought
A recent discussion, with a Goodreads friend, of Western socio-economic history and the accompanying socio-economic thought brought to mind this gem of a book, read in my early college days and a germinal influence on my own thought. (In terms of its effect on my thinking, I'd actually rank it as one of the most important books I've read, and I've upped my rating of it from four stars to five to reflect that.) Of course, my own strong personal reaction to the book will give the review below a st ...more
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is a difficult read because the sentences are long and typical of 19/20th century writing. For that reason, it took me months to finish this book. This book will inform you how Christianity after The Reformation influenced the economic development in Europe. The changing religious thoughts at that time had of course changed the way average people and nobility think about properties and the state. A must read for fans of historical socio-economic thoughts.
Timothy Dymond
Oct 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a Christian socialist, the theoretical root of R H Tawney’s criticism of capitalism is its division between commerce and morality - which he attributes to the Protestant reformation. He contrasts this with medieval thought on economic matters. He does not idealise the medieval Church: he frankly describes it as ‘an immense vested interest, implicated to the hilt in the economic fabric’. That fabric was riddled with feudalist exploitation, oppression and the enforced poverty of serfdom. Nevert ...more
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2017
A fascinating read. I think Tawney misses a few things but since I have read so much on these topics by those of a more libertarian bent (and usually theoretical rather than historical) it was good for me to read someone of a different persuasion. That said, his (non-Marxist) socialism doesn't seem to get much in the way of his historical work here.

The statement about how Aquinas espoused the labor theory of value and "The last of the Schoolmen was Karl Marx" was a bit much, but this is not real
David Sarkies
Dec 28, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historians
Recommended to David by: Saw it in a bookshop
Shelves: history
The business of God ... is business
28 December 2012

It is interesting to chart the rise of the modern state, which in a way began back in the Renaissance and the period in European history known as the Babylonian Captivity (when the Papacy was moved from Rome to Avignion) to the modern day, and to see how all of the events are interconnected with each other. This book, though, probably should have the title of Protestantism and the rise of Capitalism, namely because it was through the Protestant
John Alt
Feb 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, 1926. R.H. Tawney. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1905. Max Weber

Both are classics in the literature of economic social science.

Tawney was born in 1880 in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and in 1960 was buried at Highgate Cemetery, North London, today a de facto nature reserve. He wore many hats: economic historian, social critic, ethical socialist, Christian socialist, and was influential in all of them. Add to that his great passion for adult edu
Doug Garnett
Apr 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Been years since I read it. But I love this book.

The writing is really fun. We've removed all aspects of poetry from modern writing about history. Tawney doesn't feel those shackles and goes with the words.

Accuracy is not entirely there. But he clearly gets across one concept of the odd ways that puritanism and capitalism were bound together in their early development and how each affected the other.

Regardless, I highly recommend it.
Constantinos Kalogeropoulos
A must-read for anyone interested in the development of capitalism, specifically, how it was that avarice and material interests came to prominence in certain denominations of Protestant Christianity, ideals which the medieval Church regarded as sinful.
Jun 24, 2014 added it
As I dip into early modernism, these sort of sweeping analyses that work in a great deal of history are just the kind of slog I need. Part economic history and analysis social psychology, Tawney certainly implicates Puritan secularization of politics and economics and valorization of economic individualism in the rise of capitalism. It's not the sole factor: he notes that crucial banking systems were developed in Catholic countries, technologies of navigation allowed for increased supply of $ & ...more
Jckosnow Kosnow
Sep 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
this is a very very very good book. covers much the same ground as weber's the protestant ethic. but the rise of cap. is more interested to show how capitalism/protestantism arose in sharp contrast to medieval ethics/economics. lots of cool references. goes way beyond like john locke & st. augstine. ...more
Richard Thomas
Dec 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: general-history
A classic if now perhaps dated evaluation of man's economic drives. it was and still an influential explanation of motivation for the accumulation of wealth and the wish for prosperity; although nowadays simple naked greed seems more convincing with no veneer of any philosophy or religion to justify what drives the already unbelievably wealthy to steal more.
Jan 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic overview starting in the Middle Ages. And so interesting to see how the Puritan movement has left its mark on the U.S. Well, not like it ever left...
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
While I cannot find anything particularly wrong with the author's arguments and do not imply that I am an expert or have any great knowledge of what he talked about I did find his writing very opaque and his sentences and paragraphs poorly formed for understanding. I've read a great many books from this era of the 1920's and before so I can't blame it on the style of the time. When you have to read and reread something to get any understanding out of it something is wrong with the writing. I als ...more
Bernard M.
Apr 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A deserved classic. Covers the relationship between religion and capitalism in more historical sense than what I was familiar with from Max Weber who belonged to the same generation of scholars but wrote more from a sociologist's viewpoint. This makes Tawney far more readable than anything I've read from Weber. In fact, I've often come across writers referring readers to Tawny's book since he had already covered the subject so well. True!

All told, he has a very balanced view of capitalist develo
Hooper Bring
Oct 15, 2020 marked it as to-read
Shelves: mcluhan
McLuhan cites this in “An Ancient Quarrel in Modern America” for showing how the New Englander moved from scholastic theological concerns to high finance.
Jan 20, 2019 rated it liked it
One of those books I thought I had read, but hadn't. Really interesting response to Weberand the section on Calvin's community in Geneva has made me want to read more about that area.
N. N.
May 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very good, although a bit repetitive and the descriptions are much stronger than the explanations.
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Yay!! finally finished. Though this book is written in an very outdated style. However it is the only explanation I have every read or heard of that explain the transformation of the western thought from the medieval period of social obligations and rithts to the present time economic self responsibility. A very important book that is very relevant today to understand the current western thought. Maybe someone could re-write this book in more simple modern language to make it more accessible??

Rob Prince
Mar 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My old-guys-burnt-out-lefty book club read this one. As usual, being behind, I didn't read it until after we had discussed it. I had read it once before,45 years ago, little of it stayed with me. Not an easy read as it has those 19th century English long sentences, many quotes in Latin sprinkled here and there. A reader needs to be able to concentrate to get through it. That said, this is, in my view, a great book, a genuine `classic' in its field. The sections on Luther and Calvin - and how the ...more
Mar 17, 2008 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Definitely on the academic side - more so than Popular Delusions - lots of references to and citations of other literature on the subject. A lot of it covers the question, "How did the Catholic Church get so wealthy?" Covers Western Europe mostly ... a significant amount of the book deals with how the Catholic Church (and protestant sects once they're established) deal with the issue of interest ... is it usury and a sin against God or is it okay? Another issue is pricing of goods with the aim o ...more
Jan 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
There were parts of heavy slogging onwards, but as always with Tawney patience and effort finds a reward. Very beautiful in its thinking and sentiments, but I'm also an avowed fan of the author and medieval views on usury, so take it as you will.
Alan Hughes
Jun 16, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own
Very heavy going. An important book but not, as I discovered, a holiday read.
Anatole David
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Well written despite being incredibly detailed. A first rate book that anyone could enjoy and learn a great deal from.
Oct 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Important stuff - bought it as it was on a school reading list many years ago and glad I finally got round to reading it
Jan 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Fascinating take on the religious control of the economy as it moved from feudalism to Renaissance financial theory, and then into a free market.
Jude Brigley
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Scott Erickson
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Jan 08, 2012
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Jan 24, 2018
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Richard Henry "R. H." Tawney (/ˈtɔːni/; 30 November 1880 – 16 January 1962) was an English economic historian, social critic, ethical socialist, Christian socialist, and an important proponent of adult education.

The Oxford Companion to British History (1997) explained that Tawney made a "significant impact" in all four of these "interrelated roles". A. L. Rowse goes further by insisting that "Tawn

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