Science in Christian Perspective




Sherrie Steiner Aeschliman, Ph.D.

Eastern University,
1300 Eagle Road
St. Davids, Pennsylvania 19087-3696


Exploration of the roots of accumulating environmental degradation has reached to the very foundations of Western civilization. The dominant critiques of these foundations primarily focus on two cosmologies: monism and dualism. The purpose of this paper is to examine these foundations from a Weberian perspective and to offer a little known alternative: immanent dualism. This alternative cosmology suggests that religion could help reorganize late industrial capitalism.

Keywords: Monism, dualism, immanent dualism, Weber, capitalism, environmentalism

From: Worldviews 4,235-263, 2000 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden. Used by permission.


Many analysts in environmental literature have identified how the most dominant and pervasive of Western world views is replete with Cartesian dualisms that pose significant problems (e.g., Freese 1997b; Norgaard 1994). This world view is referred to here as dualism, and it is supposed by such analysts to foster a type of problematic social action that is environmentally exploitative and unresponsive to human induced environmental changes. The world view of dualism, it is argued, encourages actors to categorize and hierarchically arrange aspects of the world into bimodal categories, or dualisms, such as human/nature, culture/nature, male/female, symbolic/material, reason/nature, reason/emotion, mind/body, civilized/primitive, and production/reproduction. Such bimodal categories represent reifications rather than accurate depictions of reality. Inasmuch as social action is influenced by these reified (overly abstracted or exaggerated) categories, it is subject to "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness" and is environmentally maladaptive (Freudenburg, Frickel and Grambling 1996).

In addition, the world view of dualism encourages actors to privilege one side of the dualism over and against the other. The denigrated categories are said to be exploited in the service of the prioritized categories. The constricting framework of dualistic categories is supposed to create a rigid, inaccurate, and unresponsive relationship between the social and material world, and results in sociocultural forms that are maladapted to an ever-changing environment.

Bijker, Hughes and Pinch (1990) describe how dualistic world views affect the adoption and development of technology in a manner that contributes to environmental degradation. Conceiving technology as a form of embodied science, they describe how scientific dualism contributes to "closure" once scientific assessment concludes that "truth" has been winnowed from various applications of the technology. In other words, a technological problem becomes "solved" and the technology becomes stabilized (Pinch & Bijker 1990:13). Once scientific "closure" is established, technological development is no longer responsive to the environmental changes induced by the technology's application to the natural world. Freudenburg, Frickel & Gramling (1995) similarly argue that Western society is pervasively affected by a society/nature dualism that contributes to environmental degradation by risking adoption of distorted perceptions of societal-environmental relations. We risk "being prisoners of our own perspectives" by the very "taken-for-grantedness of our socially agreed-upon definitions" (Freudenburg, Fiickel, & Gramling 1995:388). It is argued that science can develop a reliable description of a continuously changing material world only to the degree it allows "variables" to vary (Freudenburg, Frickel & Gramhng 1996). "if our goal is to understand the importance of physical enviromnental factors, accordingly, it is important for our studies to consider (at least) a significant range of variation in environmental settings" (Freudenburg, et al. 1995:371 as quoted in Freudenburg, Frickel & Gramling 1996:163).


Several analysts have proposed an alternative world view for reorganization, referred to here as monism. Monism is a cosmology that defines the symbolic and material realms as inseparably intertwined into a oneness of existence (e.g., Anthony and Robbins 1990:491- 492). In contrast to the compartmentalization of dualism, monism sees the world as a "seamless web" rather than as a scientific/technological dichotomy, where technological change is dynamic rather than static (Bijker, Hughes, & Pinch 1990:10). Monism promotes the sustainability of human environmental connections and hopes to avoid ecological disaster by promoting the conjoint constitution of the physical and the social. Thus, sociocultural forms are understood as processual, adaptive and responsive to environmental changes (e.g., Freudenburg, Frickel & Gramling 1995; Rambler, Margulis, and Fester 1989).

This world view argues that the knower cannot be separated from that which is known. Biological and cultural factors are ultimately inseparable, so radically transcendent knowledge1-knowledge of that which cannot be derived from the material world-is not possible.2 Monism implies that no artificial distinction between spirituality and nature is possible. According to Roth and Schluchter (1979), monism encourages a world view where actors understand the material world to be invested with intrinsic meaning as if it were an enchanted garden. As such, monism "does not lead to a radical separation of the this-worldly and the other-worldly sphere and to an unbridgeable gulf between men and supernatural powers" (Roth and Schluchter 1979:22).

Monists contend that the gulf between matter and spirit can be bridged, and that knowledge gained by bridging this gulf is obtainable. One can know about the world as the gods know about the world. However, monism does not imply that the knowledge gained by this bridgeable gulf between matter and "spirit" is adequate to the environmental task. Knowledge is not privileged and epistemologically special; it cannot "save us". Those who believe in "scientism" are heavily criticized for adhering to forms of radically transcendent knowledge that is reified and disembodied from the material world. Monists argue that the distortions of radically transcendent knowledge create fallacious answers and imprudent decisions in response to environmental problems.

Monists insist that intellectual coherence be embodied and embedded in the real world rather than transcendently integrated and imposed upon the real world. The latter is considered unworkable and environmentally unsustainable. When science is transcendently conceived and subsequently imposed upon the real world, it is assumed that the "learning phase" associated with the scientific method can be dualistically separated from the technological application phase of sociocultural development. But this is often not the case. For example, the initial technological innovation of CFCs for refrigeration was rightfully considered a scientific breakthrough for refrigeration. If the connection between CFCs and ozone depiction had been understood, and tested for when CFCs were initially discovered, they would have been thought harmless because in very small amounts, they do not significantly affect stratospheric ozone. CFCs only became environmentally problematic when refrigeration was widely used within societies. Although the "learning phase" was initially thought to be over once CFC technology was found to be affordable and safe, we now know that there was more to be learned when CFCs, and science more generally, became technologically applied to society. The negative relationship between CFCs and stratospheric ozone has only become apparent with widespread use of refrigeration.

Monists argue that "scientific truth" is processual and developmental (e.g., Norgaard 1994), if not socially constructed (Bijker, Hughes, & Pinch 1990).3 Although the success and failure of certain knowledge cultures is still thought to require explanation, "this is to be seen as a sociological task, not an epistemological one" (Pinch & Bijker 1990:19, emphasis mine). Knowledge is a materially rooted and processual enterprise that is not based in transcendent and abstracted reference points. Since dualism separates the learning stage of science from the application stage, monists argue that dualism stifles the scientific method, thereby contributing to technological development (and application) which is inadequately responsive to human induced environmental changes. Dualistic closure mechanisms are supposed to limit interpretative flexibility and result in premature termination of scientific controversy (Pinch & Bijker 1990:26).

Scientific flexibility is of critical importance due to the scale of human pressures upon ecosystems in late industrial capitalism (Ehrlich & Ehrlich 1990; Freese 1997b). Increased scientific knowledge can unquestionably play an essential role in solving these complex, human induced environmental problems (Ehrlich, et al. 1999). However, rigid, low quality, and inaccurate information will only impede improved policy responses (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1996). Monists argue that the human induced changes in ecosystems are so vast that science must become a way of life if we are to survive. Consequently, some monist social constuctivists have adopted an empirical program of relativism, an approach that attempts to indigenously connect technological change and social organization to local environmental categories are said to be exploited in the service of the prioritized categories. The constricting framework of dualistic change. When taken to the extreme, this position maintains that science as it has been constructed in Western civilization may no longer be viable.

Some Unintended Consequences of Abandoning Dualism in Favor of Monism

In offering this critique of dualism, monism contributes positively to an understanding of societal-environmental relations. As a subculture, monism might continue to make positive contributions to a sustainable future. The problems associated with monism only surface if monism were to become a dominant and pervasive world view. Monism may be problematic to the extent that it takes the positive contributions of dualism for granted.

Importantly, in considering this issue, Anthony & Robbins distinguish a unilevel monism from a multilevel monism (Apthony & Robbins 1990:493-4). Whereas unilevel monism is a vulgarized form open to many of the criticisms which have been leveled against monism, multilevel monism may be quite compatible with the technical rationality and bureaucratic structures of modem life (Anthony & Robbins 1990:494; Anthony and Ecker 1987). However, we are less concerned here with scientific compatibility than with scientific innovation and change. The question remains: Are there any positive contributions which dualism fosters but monism does not that might be essential to the future? If not, then the unintended consequences of abandoning dualism in favor of monism may be negligible. However, if dualism makes significant positive contributions worth preserving for the future, then perhaps we should reconsider abandoning dualism in favor of monism and explore other possible options. A complete rejection of the dualistic world view supposes that dualism makes inessential positive contributions beyond those supplied by monism. This may not be the case.

Max Weber described how the Western world view of science promoted social action that appeared to be based on the relation between means and ends, was formally organized in an impersonal fashion, and developed independently of the interests of the people to whom it was entrusted (Ferrarotti 1982:89; Kalberg 2000:186). Weber identified the irrational basis of this supposed value-neutral scientific society wherein the conceptual schemes of science represent world view ideologies beyond the empirical (Weber 1946b:154, 350, 355). In doing so, he also identified how scientific-technological rationalism and practical rationalism are by-products of the dualistic world view.4 Scientific-technological rationalism refers to the capacity to use empirical scientific and technological knowledge to control the world through, calculation (Schluchter 1979:14-15). Practical rational ism is the achievement of a methodical way of life as a consequence of the institutionalization of various configurations of meaning and interest-the control of action by ideas (Swidler 1973). For Weber, the Western world view uniquely promoted development of scientific social action by separating the ends and the means of social action in various ways.

Max Weber is not known for defending science. Indeed, Weber's colleagues viewed Weber's work as "threatening at its core the 'superiority of the West"' (Kalberg 2000:151). Weber exposed the value- laden aspects of a presumed and supposed value-neutral scientific society. In so doing, he challenged the hegemony of the scientific status quo on its own terms, setting social scientists free "to investigate 'the other' on its own terms" and consider the subjective meanings of many cultures and civilizations without reference to the West as a fixed point of orientation (Kalberg 2000:151).

And yet, Weber was deeply committed to science---not the science of material domination and hegemony, but to a science that was pluralistic and experientially based (Kalberg 2000:151; Weber 1946a:151-2). Weber hoped that comparative historical analysis of many cultures would provide the West with the insights needed to make informed and ethical decisions about the future (Kalberg 2000: 151). Weber understood the fragility of the scientific world view and, rather than take it for granted, he sought to transform and preserve it by promoting a value-free, pluralistic science with circumscribed boundaries (Kalberg 2000:189). Problems would arise, according to Weber, if scientific rationalization became a means for considering how one should live one's life. Weber contended that science cannot and must not inform people how they should live lives of ethical responsibility, honor, dignity and devotion (Weber 1949:58).

However, a solution of privatizing all values was equally problematic. Weber described how the progressive rationalization of society would paradoxically result in a dual crisis of management and meaning (Roth and Schluchter 1979:13). Scientific-technological rationalism would progressively demystify the material world as science provided the knowledge for humans to technologically master their environment, relegating explicitly value laden concerns to the private realm. Once metaphysics was rejected on the ground of empirical meaninglessness, the metaphysics of meaninglessness would prevent adequate public management of social concerns. The rationalized world not only disenchants, it disempowers (Goldman 1993:164). For the sake of its own future survival, Weber knew that the scientific society would need to grapple with its own metaphysical underpinnings so that value struggles could be addressed rather than dismissed as optimistically solvable learning experiences (Treiber 1993:15; Turner and Factor 1984:197).

Despite the problems with the Western world view, Weber saw something valuable in science that monism does not preserve. Unlike dualism, monism does not radically separate the means from the ends of action in an abstract confrontation with reality. As such, monism does not promote rigorous experimentation, precise concept formation and logical deduction and induction in the manner of science. Since monism only understands how the world is interrelated as a seamless web, the pervasive triumph of monism would, at best, reduce scientific innovation and, at worst, result in the disappearance of scientific-technological and practical rationality. Polanyi (1992:130) already worries that young people are turning against science, attempting to slow or altogether stop the scientific enterprise. The scientific heritage might be preserved through tradition, but scientific innovation would likely decline--if it is not already declining (Horgan 1996).

In the long run, the adoption of monism as a dominant and pervasive world view implies a near-total de-industrialization of society without fostering a sociocultural context suitable to technological development. In the absence of scientific-technological and practical rationality, a "de facto" deindustrialization would be expected to occur as, over time, decreasing rates of technological innovation replace outmoded technologies resulting in net technological decline. The logical result of this combination of factors is a likely reversion to preindustrial sustainable societies. Some monists directly advocate deindustrialization, communitarianism, and utilization of less technology. For example, Arne Naess has suggested a reduction of the world's population to no more than 100 million people--about one-fiftieth of the world population or less than the population of Japan (cited in Murphy 1994:98). Monism is a world view more compatible with preindustrial than postindustrial societies. Even though, as a subculture, monism may help prevent ecological disaster by offering a world view that reconnects environmental and societal relations, ultimately as a dominant perspective, it would undercut a transition to postindustrial sustainable societies. Monism is strong as a critique of and as a complement to dualism. But, monism is a weak replacement of dualism.

The growth of scientific knowledge should not be taken for granted. Despite the much touted "information age," only useful and accurate information will help in developing environmentally adaptive societies. Environmental contexts are continuously changing from human impact (Lubchenco, et al. 1991;'Freese 1997b). Science can help in understanding those changes and developing more environmentally benign technologies (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987; Holdren 1990). Given the complexities of societal-environmental relations, science is needed more than ever to develop a postindustrial sustainable future.

Dualism is problematic, but the unintended consequences of adopting monism may be equally problematic. It is overly optimistic to assume that a transition to monism would adequately address the environmental problems associated with dualism; it may not be realistic to assume that a postindustrial sustainable society can be developed and sustained in a monistic context.

An Alternative Option

Monism is not the only alternative cosmology that can effectively address problems inherent in dualism. Other world views are possible.5 If postindustrial sustainable societies are to emerge, a world view is needed that tempers the excessive ecological disconnections associated with dualism without eliminating these disconnections entirely. That is, a world view is needed which is monistic and dualistic-as capable of making environmental connections as it is of engendering science, technology, and other various aspects of modern life by separating the means and ends of social action. In other words, a world view is needed that incorporates monistic and essential dualistic components directly into the cosmology.

Immanent Dualism

There is an alternative cosmology to classic dualism and monism. It is a theory of the organization of the world, and it may be framed as a world view. It will be referred to here as immanent dualism. The term immanence turns attention to shared histories, experiences and realities. Unlike holism, which implies a unity of experience, immanent dualism is pluralistic. It is implicit in Weber's work, and it may adequately describe the paradigms implicit in the U.S. academic dialogue between science and religion in the modem context. The purpose of describing this world view is to provide a framework for understanding patterns of organization of the world not yet adequately recognized in environmental discourse.  It describes patterns of organization as interfaces of symbolic and material processes, and suggests a basis for the societal reorganization of late industrialism in response to global environmental change.

Because we are focusing upon how people generate and sustain new systems of meaning in the context of social change, I am adopting Roberts' definition of religion as "a social phenomenon that involves the grouping of people around a faith perspective. Faith is an individual phenomenon that involves trusting in some object, event, principle, or being as the center of worth and the source of meaning in life" (Roberts 1995:20).

The world view of immanent dualism is multidimensional and may be described using a metaphor of voices. If science were considered to be a voice of the material world and religion a voice of the symbolic world, then immanent dualism could be understood as a world view where there is constant conversation between religion and science, and where each retain their distinct voices while engaging in dialogue and interdependent integration of thought (Barbour 1990). Immanence refers to the way in which the divine and the material are self-referential, connected, united and indivisible in a creative and diverse reality. Alternatively, dualism refers to the way in which the divine and the material are distinguishable. The unity of immanence and dualism in one world view emphasizes how dialogue between religion and science includes within a single paradigm both similarities and differences-a paradigm that lies between absolutism and relativism, insisting that the cosmos is both rationally intelligible yet inherently contingent (Barbour 1990:84). Immanent dualism is a processual and multidimensional world view (i.e., pluralistic, historical, narrative and evolving) rather than mechanistic, linear and unidimensional.

A cosmology that highlights similarities and differences may be illustrated by language used in U.S. texts on dialogue between religion and science (e.g., Barbour 1990; Bube 1995). These texts illustrate immanence when they emphasize theology and science using integrated concepts such as "ecological theology," "inductive theology," and "theological realism." This approach incorporates a materialist reading of Scripture that treats theology and reality as a seamless web. And yet, these texts are also dualistic emphasizing the differences between religion and science. For example, radically transcendent knowledge is assumed to be epistemologically meaningful so the texts include theology. But the texts also include, science as the study of a world that is not dependent upon human existence even if the knowledge of that world is mediated by human senses. Science thus describes something about the way the world works. Immanent dualism relates the similarities and differences in one world view in a manner that produces unique distinctions that cannot be singularly made by either monism or dualism. Immanent dualism promotes diverse development of theology and science, even as it guards against the excesses of either theology or science becoming a totalizing world view. Immanent dualism promotes the complementarity rather than the compartmentalization of science and religion. Compartmentalization puts science and theology into Cartesian dualistic categories where they do not interact. Complementarity brings the unique perspectives of science and religion together and "seeks to understand how both can be a faithful and consistent insight into the same reality" (Bube 1995:168). For example:

The world view based on the belief that science is the way of knowing is often called "Scientism;" it affirms that science is the only source of truth and that the scientific method is the only guide to truth. It is essential to maintain a sharp distinction between science, the out- working of a particular approach to understanding the natural world, and Scientism, the non-scientific developing of a philosophy or world view that exalts the scientific approach above all others and draws consequent conclusions from such a position. Science can tell us some- thing about how things work in the universe, but it does not provide us with knowledge of why the universe is ultimately the way it is, nor can it inform us about the purpose or meaning of its existence (Bube 1995:16).

The combination of immanence and dualism, unique to this world view, lends insight into three very difficult problems: (1) the character of historical inquiry, since the natural world and the scientific and religious communities are all historical, (2) the question whether objectivity is possible if it is recognized that all knowledge is historically and culturally conditioned, and (3) the question whether we have to accept relativism if we abandon absolute claims (Barbour 1990:66-92). Although it would be a digression to go into these three questions at this point, it is important to identify specifically that immanence and dualism together produce unique insights into these questions, all of which are very relevant to modern society and were all extensively addressed in Weber's work. 6

The world view of immanent dualism enables science and religion to develop complementary voices (insights) about the same world. Science and religion, when authentic and true to their own epistemological possibilities, develop valid insights from different perspectives into the nature of reality-which is assumed to exist even if it is unknowable- in its entirety. Where it is possible, these two types of insights are integrated, through dialogue, to develop an adequate and coherent view of reality (Bube 1995:167). And yet, because immanent dualism promotes multidimensional pluralism, it also maintains scientific and theological independence of thought resulting in contributions that emerge from their relative uniqueness (Barbour 1990; Bube 1995). Science adopts the epistemic attitude of objectivity, falsifiability and logical neutrality that asks and answers very different kinds of questions from those of religion. Religion adopts the epistemic attitude of personal involvement and commitment that asks and answers very different kinds of questions from those of science (Moreland 1993). Immanent dualism promotes independent streams of thought in a manner that resists the tendency to essentialize and hierarchically relate concepts according to two extreme categories. The distinctions between symbolic and material realities are retained without eliminating the nature of their interrelationship. The capacity to make nonessentializing distinctions differentiates the world view of immanent dualism from classic dualism. Consequently, the world view of immanent dualism is not dualistic, in the Cartesian sense of the term.

Similarly, the capacity to make distinctions differentiates immanent dualism from monism. Complementary sets of descriptions "can each be totally complete on its own level of description without leaving gaps on that level for other disciplines to fill, and without demanding some kind of conflict" (Bube 1995:169). For example, science addresses the "how" questions of the physical universe. Theology provides the foundations for ethics and knowledge about the relationship between God and human beings. Nevertheless, the cosmology of immanent dualism fosters a world view where actors resist the notion that science and theology are mutually exclusive. It supports the notion that science and theology both deal with the same reality and, at some level, must be integrated (Bube 1995:169). The approach of complementarity recognizes those circumstances where it is possible, by more complete understanding, to resolve paradox or contradiction. And, where irreconcilable differences remain beyond attempts to integrate understandings, the approach of complementarity, through the cultivation of intellectual and spiritual humility, is able to respect those circumstances "where two or more different but valid insights are available to describe and understand something beyond the abilities of known models to encompass" (Bube 1995:169). After all, while reality exists, it can never be fully known because humans are embedded in that reality and limited by their senses. The cosmology of immanent dualism may even help to clarify and develop respect for the possibilities and limitations of both science and theology (Bube 1995:168). Returning to the metaphor of voices, science continuously gives voice to the ways in which the world is ever changing and theology continuously gives voice to the ethical implications of those changes; together, science and religion, in dialogue, formulate new pictures, determined within the tension between subjectivity and objectivity, of a continuously changing world (Bube 1995:172).

According to Roth and Schluchter (1979:56), Weber may be interpreted as operating within this world view. In the context of immanent dualism, Weber was able to consider how the world is shaped "according to the postulates of human will" while acknowledging that "this will is not completely free"--studying how human agency is subject to material constraint (Roth and Schluchter 1979:56). During times of social change, this approach engenders "the art of accomplishing the impossible" as well as "the art of the possible" (Roth and Schluchter 1979:57). This world view enables the distinct "voice" of religion to redefine the bounds of hope in a realistic, rather than utopian, context of social change. In particular, Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1958) is known for describing the manner in which religious ideas influenced the unfolding of modem capitalism in the West. The cosmology of immanent dualism raises the question of whether religion might once again mediate material and symbolic development in the context of late industrial capitalism and global environmental change to promote a high-tech, environmentally and socially sustainable new way of life.

Although some scholars argue that sustainable capitalism may be an oxymoron (O'Connor 1994), other scholars offer dear descriptions of what an environmentally sustainable "natural capitalism" might be like (Hawken, Lovins & Lovins 1999). Immanent dualism provides a framework for taking a new approach to the debate over whether we can learn our way into a future that is environmentally sustainable. In contrast to dualism and monism, immanent dualism promotes pluralism and diversity. Religious and environmental scholars are increasingly supporting a pluralistic approach to contemporary environmental issues (Barrett 2000; Norton 1995). Pluralism promotes participatory, "bottom up" decision-making that is more local and community-based, and studies have shown that localized decision-making is an important factor in maintaining sustainability (Barrett and Csete 1994; Western et al. 1994). If sustainable societies are to emerge in the context of globalization, it is imperative that we ask whether or not our current patterns of knowledge production enable us to know what we need to know in time to learn our way into a sustainable future. If they are not, and there is good reason to suspect that they are not (e.g., Ehrlich et al. 1999), then we must begin to ask what social, scientific and value changes we could make to ensure a greater likelihood that we will know what we need to know in time to learn our way into a sustainable future. A world view of immanent dualism could promote rather than hinder this type of public dialogue.

Religion and Industrial Social Change

Any suggestion that ideas might once again influence the unfolding of history must address Weber's political sociology of domination. Although industrial society was, for Weber, basically a rational society (Ferrarotti 1982:89), it was also subject to the problem. of rationality. Weber anticipated that industrial society would be faced with a dual crisis of meaning and management that would privatize meaning and leave the public realm unmanageable. He doubted whether the "realm of ideas" could remain a decisive force in the social organization of society (Ferrarotti 1982:89). Weber clearly saw the bureaucratic rationalization of society as problematic. He was unable to provide historical examples where this process had been arrested independently of the decline of the civilization as a whole, with the exception of late feudalism (Ferrarotti 1982:97).

Even so, 'Weber suggested that the "imprisonment of human agency" might not be permanent. At the turn of the twentieth century, he wrote:

[T]he modern economic order ... is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism.... Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt. In Baxter's view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the "saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment." But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage (Weber 1958 [1904-51:181, emphasis mine).

And what happens to the "imprisonment of human agency" when the last ton of fossilized coal is burned? Did Weber perceive an opportunity for human agency to influence once again the structure of society should the material conditions underpinning industrial capitalism change? On one hand, Weber had accepted the "fate" of capitalist technology and relations of production (Turner 1981). On the other hand, Weber identified a spirituality that he believed possessed the potential for creating a type of human agency capable of reorganizing bureaucracy (Goldman 1993). Whether human agency could or could not impose an order upon late Western civilization would be, for Weber, a "factual question" (Turner and Factor 1984:199).

Most Weberian specialists are not even that optimistic. The modern public realm is so disenchanted that it is often just assumed that religious ideas cannot change late industrialism (e.g., Roth and Scluchter 1979). However, such specialists do not discuss how conditions might change should disenchanted late industrialism ever lose its legitimacy. Juergen Habermas (1970, 1975, 1984) has written extensively about what he perceives to be a legitimating crisis of Western civilization. Many analysts argue that deterioration of the modern industrial complex has already begun as industrialism approaches Emits to further expansion due to environmental degradation (e.g., Catton 1980; Norgaard 1994).

Since a legitimating crisis represents, among other things, a fail- urea of political authority, Weber argued that people would turn to alternative authorities in such a context. For Weber, religion is, among other things, one of those authorities. Daniel Bell (1976:30) acknowledges that the idea of industrial capitalism returning to some conception of religion represents a formidable task. And yet, he asks..."who has the hope for a future to come?

... What holds one to reality, if one's secular system of meanings proves to be an illusion?" (Bell 1976:29). Arguably, only religion can adequately address deep and complete this-worldly disappointment because religious compensators are unfaisifiable (i.e., since they are not materially derived, they cannot be materially disprove). Indeed, Stark and Bainbridge (1985) have argued that turning to religion when this world has failed to materially deliver is a rational response to disappointment. Although, scientifically speaking, this is precisely the weakness of religion, from the point of view of a religious consumer, religious choices may be rational inasmuch as unfaisifiable faith claims cannot be taken away or disproven. In contexts of discontent and disappointment in secular hopes and promises, religious choices may be rational. According to Weber, to the extent that rational religious authority influences people to reorganize society, religion can promote rational social change despite widespread chaos and social upheaval.

Legitimacy and Religion

I have argued (1999) that since human societies are dependent upon functioning ecosystems, human induced ecological disorganization eventually contributes to social deterioration that may reach some critical threshold where a legitimation crisis could occur. As population increases, agricultural production intensifies. Intensive ecosystem management by complex societies degrades environments. Eventually, ecosystems reorganize to reduce the human load, inducing either sociocultural reorganization or collapse. As society deteriorates, a critical threshold is passed and a legitimation crisis occurs where something irreversibly changes in the "ethos" of the society. P. Berger, B. Berger and Kellner (1973) argue that legitimation is a problem in the social construction of reality where actors' treatment of authority as legitimate depends upon whether the act or structure is considered to be valid according to the rules as framed by larger cultural accounts (Thomas, Walker and Zelditch 1986; Walker and Zelditch 1993). The persistence, and change, of social organizational forms depends upon this social process of legitimation (Habermas 1975; Walker and Zelditch 1993; Weber [1918]1968). Successful negotiation of the legitimation crisis by institutional decision makers depends upon the ability of the authority structure to be perceived as valid. This requires that policy be negotiated according to the informal culture of the ordinary person, rather than solely in accordance with the rules of formally structured social forms like the state, societal authority systems, stratification systems and organizations. So, a legitimation crisis strains relations between institutional decision makers and the populace. If consensus is not adequately negotiated according to the common culture, popular dissensus may become widespread, ultimately ending in the people opposing the strategies of the state, potentially inducing collapse even before increasing environmental fluctuations drain societal reserves.

So, how do institutional decision makers successfully negotiate with the populace when relations are strained? Max Weber paid attention to this question when he sought to explain why late feudalism did not collapse. According to Weber, any argument which did not account for some change in the "spirit" or "mentality" surrounding the economic activity of capitalism was incomplete and inadequately explained its full emergence (Holton 1985:105). Weber's argument in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism describes how the populace was resocialized from the "spirit" of economic traditionalism (under feudalism) toward the "spirit" of modern capitalism. I returned (1999:184-192) to Weber's work to describe one case study institution where institutional decision makers successfully negotiated with the populace when relations were strained. As population pressure and widespread deforestation intensified during late feudalism, the populace became increasingly receptive to, among other things, informal religious authority. According to Weber, this was how wide- spread resocialization began.

It was the informal, rather than the formal, aspects of Protestantism that were influential. Weber pointed out how the Puritans (and the Huguenots) carried on "a bitter struggle" with "the Lombards, the monopolists, speculators, and bankers patronized by the Anglican Church and the kings and parliaments of England and France" (Weber 1958:82). Informal religion refers to church organizations that do not benefit from state subsidies whether in a regulated or deregulated religious market. Informal religious authority is found among the sects that thrive in a deregulated religious market.7 Formal religious authority is found among the mainline traditions that historically benefited from state taxation.

Beginning in the late colonial era in what is now the United States, religion has been increasingly deregulated in the modern world. Deregulation refers to the removal of state subsidy and state regulation of religion (Finke 1990, 1997). Scholars have empirically documented the consequences of religious deregulation which include a rise in religious competition, a rise in religious entrepreneurs, a rise in religious pluralism, and a rise in incentives for religious producers to gain popular support. When the religious market is deregulated, "popular movements are the only groups that survive" (Finke 1997:51). Religious deregulation increases the degree to which informal religion identifies with popular culture. Religious groups that resist this "democratization" decline (Finke and Stark 1989, 1992).

Arguably, as environmental degradation accumulates in industrial capitalism, a legitimation crisis may increase the influence of informal religion. Analysts claim that environmentally induced sociocultural degeneration should occur first among the poor such as in the orbit of the international political economy among developing societies (Catton 1980). Religious growth follows this pattern. For example, although Protestant influence has weakened its old strongholds in Europe, it is growing rapidly in developing countries primarily among the poor in Africa, Latin America, and Asia (Barrett 1982; Cox 1995; Martin 1990). When religious growth occurs in a deregulated context, the resultant informal religion becomes increasingly populist (Finke 1997). Finke and Stark (1989) provide data from 1776-1850 which illustrate the rise of populist movements such as Baptists and Methodists and the decline of mainline groups such as Episcopalians in the aftermath of the United States' religious deregulation. In Weberian terms, the dynamics of legitimation crisis, religious growth and increasingly populist influences combine to increase the possibility of entrepreneurial social change that may be in the interest of the people who inhabit the social structures of the deteriorating society.

A legitimation crisis presents religious authorities, informal and formal, with an opportunity to evaluate the performance of the secular social order. Whether or not religious authorities choose to do so, and how they do so, depends upon the cultural rules of the particular religious subculture. The evaluations given, if any, may cumulatively result in either a legitimation or delegitimation of the social order. If the social order is legitimized, public officials may be able to confront a new task with social support despite failure associated with past tasks, but it is transformed in the process.

Some religious authorities are more likely to find ways to legitimize the state than are others, depending upon the subcultural rules regarding social action. Weber's sociology of religion identified how various religions mediate this relationship, sometimes directing people toward "this-worldly social action," but most often directing people away from social action toward "otherworldly flight from the world." Arguably, if the "otherworldly flight" directive becomes dominant during a legitimation crisis, the populace is likely to oppose the social change strategies of institutional decision makers. But, if the directive toward "this-worldly social action" becomes dominant, the populace might work with institutional decision makers to reorganize society such as occurred with late feudalism (Steiner-Aeschfiman 1999a; 1999b).

As accumulating environmental degradation increasingly erodes the resource base upon which secular society depends, the demand for traditional religious beliefs could be expected to increase as "this world" increasingly "fails to deliver." In contexts where secular hopes and promises bring mostly discontent and disappointment, it becomes rational to place one's hopes where they cannot be shaken: in the unfalsifiable claims of religion. This reverses the dynamics posited by the secularization model that claimed modernity would erode the demand for traditional religious beliefs and religion would decline as a consequence (e.g., see Wilson 1966, 1982 for the secularization hypothesis). The secularization process may be limited.

Can Ideas Once Again Influence the Unfolding of History?

Given mounting evidence of accumulating environmental degradation, analysts increasingly argue for the reorganization of industrial capitalism around environmentally sustainable trajectories. Yet, cur- rent reorganization attempts lag behind the resource management and environmental problems that are being induced by globalization (UNEP 1999:20). Can ideas successfully influence the unfolding of history so that the globalizing economy might reorganize rather than collapse? The relationship between knowledge and the environment is problematic at best (Ehrlich, et al. 1999). Furthermore, the reorganization of industrial capitalism into a sustainable way of life involves many ethical issues (e.g., Anderberg 1998). And yet, in the context of dualism, religious influence is largely excluded from most social decision-making. Max Weber argued that ideas influenced the unfolding of history at least once, but he was highly skeptical of this occurring in the context of the dualism of Western civilization.

A new world view is needed that could promote multidimensional pluralistic social decision-making. The forces of social change are material and ethical, and we need a means to address both issues in an integrative, reasonable manner. Max Weber's 1958 [1904-5] The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism did not describe increased investment in the expansion of religious institutions--religious con- version and growth. Rather, Weber described a resocialization process that was rooted in the social psychological influence of an existing religious psychology that was already significantly embedded in English culture at the time of late feudalism. In the modem context, how- ever, it is difficult to even speak of social change in terms of some type of historical continuity or overarching world view (Giddens 1990; Jeffrey 1998), yet alone reason from an ethical basis in the midst of what Carter has called a "culture of disbelief" (1993). The world view of dualism presents a barrier to social change that needs to be replaced with an alternative world view if widespread resocialization. is to be effective. As we have seen, environmental scholars have identified how the Western world view, replete with Cartesian dualisms, is a significant problem that needs to be over- come. Similarly, Protestant theological scholars have begun to challenge the Greek foundations of the Western European tradition as dualistic and decontextualized, alternatively arguing for a responsive and contextualized God (e.g., Pinnock, Rice, Sanders, Hasker & Basinger 1994). 1 have argued in favor of the world view of Max Weber who identified how ideas once influenced the unfolding of history. Immanent dualism is a world view that promotes pluralism and multidimensional social decision making. Adoption of this world view would remove the dualistic barrier to ethical innovation. Ethical innovation, however, is sparked by religious influences. Weber was not arguing for formalized religious influence or religious revival. Rather, Weber identified how informal religious influences enabled people to make social decisions in a manner that resocialized them into a way of life they had never known before-a way of life that involved material and ethical issues and changes. Neither was Weber arguing about a process singularly confined to Protestantism. Protestantism just happened to be the most widespread, universal, rational religious subculture that made significant contributions to beginning the process of resocialization. at that point in time and in history. A wide- spread resocialization process must begin in some way, and then

spread in various forms throughout society. Weber saw the "spark" of resocialization beginning where the mystical and rational are intensely merged: rational religious subcultures. Weber identified how Protestantism catalyzed social change because of its sociological structure. Eventually, the expansion of industrial capitalism involved a value convergence that was ecumenical and interreligious. Protestantism's specific role related to the original innovation of the new way of life that stemmed from the specifically rational and this-worldly religious subculture.

If Max Weber is right, the potential currently exists for widespread and rapid sociocultural reorganization through the influence of, among other things, widespread resocialization. The sociologically relevant characteristics of Protestantism that caught Weber's attention are even more accentuated in the modern context. Protestantism remains a major world religion. Protestantism continues to be a universal religion. Over time, Protestantism has become even more informal as culture developed in the United States, and as other industrialized countries have legally separated church and state. Protestant subculture continues to promote a religious psychology that relates religious motivation to practical fife (e.g., Guinness 1998). Weber understood that this type of religious psychology functions as a resacralizing force, evoking human agency capable of social change. The potential for another Protestant "spark" of resocialization may be at least objectively possible. Protestant subculture is compatible with an immanent dualism world view. Most Protestant subcultures preserve within them the historical narrative of a transcendent God that continues to be immanently involved in the world. It is important to remember that Weber's argument is not so much concerned with specific concepts theological moralists develop as with how the production of religious discourse affects the social behavior of lay participants (Oakes 1993). For our purposes here, the most salient impact of Protestant sub- culture on popular audiences is that it promotes a grand narrative where a transcendent God is still involved in the world even as it is theologically diverse and indigenously rooted (e.g., Bouluaga 1984; Cox 1995; Erskine 1994; Gutierrez 1973; Kitagawa). Protestant sub- culture promotes a psychology of hope (Kaplan & Schwartz 1993).

Future Research

Obviously, were the process Weber described to occur again, it Would be similar and different from the process that occurred in the con- text of late feudalism. One difference, for example, is that new Protestant ethics would be relating to a spirit of environmentalism rather than a spirit of capitalism. Further research would need to identify the ways in which the process Weber identified in late feudalism is different from, as well as similar to, the process that would need to occur in the modem context. If it seems improbable, it is at least objectively possible that modem Protestant ethics and the spirit of environmentalism could promote an environmentally sustainable natural capitalism. Were it to occur, Protestant resocialization might negotiate behavioral and attitudinal changes in the populace in tandem with social reorganization for a sustainable future (Steiner- Aeschliman 1999b). This would potentially minimize the possibility of sociocultural collapse due to the combination of decreasing marginal returns and increasing environmental fluctuations (Steiner-Aeschhman 1999a, 1999b). This conclusion is ironic because the Protestant ethic has been consistently and extensively criticized as contributing to environmental exploitation (e.g., Coleman 1976; White 1995 [1967]). Rather than being responsive to environmental changes, the Protestant ethic has been criticized for advocating an orientation of "mastery-over-nature"- what has been termed dominion theology (e.g., Shaiko 1987). Christianity, in general, is argued to be unresponsive to the environment because of anthropocentric theological beliefs that nature exists to serve humankind (White 1995 [1967]). It is important to note, however, that Lynn White, Jr.'s criticism of Christianity as "the most anthropocentric religion the world has ever seen" was of Christianity in its Western form (White 1995 [1967]:38). Although Protestantism in its form under industrial capitalism has promoted environmental degradation and exploitation, I have argued (1999a; 2000) that there is nothing inherent in Protestantism that requires linkage to industrial capitalism, per se. Lenski (1961) theorized that Protestantism historically evolves, and scholars ate increasingly identifying a growing "green" stream of Protestant thought and behavior within the Protestant tradition (e.g., Bakken, Engel, an Engel 1995; Fowler 1995).

There are several problems a modem Protestant ethic thesis would have to address. First, the societal reorganization 'in Weber's case study provided industrialized societies with a competitive advantage over preindustrial societies (Adams 1988; Buttel 1978, 1979). What advantage would sustainable societies have over industrialized societies, and how might energy theory be related to such a transition? Second, Weber merely identified how domination is associated with the commodification of labor, but a modernized Protestant ethic the- sis would need to ask whether the commodification of nature can be environmentally sustained. Third, at the micro level, Weber's religiously rational actors raised their standard of living through participating in social change, even if they did not indulge in hedonistic pleasure; although they did not spend their wealth on themselves, they nevertheless obtained material satisfaction in how they invested their capital on behalf of others and society-for the common good. In the modem context, moral entrepreneurs and religious virtuosi would need to be more altruistic. Are humans capable of being motivated by altruism, or is it just a "secondary rationalization" of instinctual drives, as Freudian psychoanalysis tends to assume? Are the will to pleasure and the will to power the only primary motivational forces in humans? If indeed the will to meaning can be a primary motivational force in humans, a modem Protestant ethic thesis would need to identify the social psychological mechanisms of this religious psychology. Fourth, if humans are sometimes primarily motivated by the will to meaning, how much of a population would need to be motivated in this manner to catalyze social change? In Weber's multidimensional conception, is social change a gradual and continuous process requiring majority of the population to adopt this meaning system, or is it discontinuous nonlinear process that can be catalyzed by a few? If it is catalyzed by a few, then how would substantial sociocultural reserves be freed up through the resocialization process? Finally, Protestantism is inherently anthropocentric. Is this an insurmountable barrier to developing a value convergence with environmentalism?

As a question of theory, it is a contingent matter whether or not, in the context of growing ecological changes, religion might again catalyze a relatively peaceful transition to a new social order. Weber understood that religion introduces tension into human relationships toward the world. And yet, Weber argued, "this very tension which this religious ethic introduces into the human relationships toward the world becomes a strongly dynamic factor in social evolution" (Weber 1978 [1922]:579).

In the meantime, further research might consider whether Protestantism's weakness may also be its strength. Immanent dualism, as an alternative world view to dualism and monism, suggests that the optimum path for avoiding collapse is a process of social change which combines scientific-technological rationality and "the seamless web." With such a world view, ideas might once again influence the unfolding of history. Weberian theory suggests that informal religions of various denominations and faiths may catalyze social change, although the sociological structure of Protestantism may be best suited to starting the innovative process. Further research would identify additional linkages between immanent dualism and various religious subcultures, offering more empirical and illustrative support for the types of changes envisioned. For example, environmental ethics already exist in many religions (Tucker and Grim 1993). Perhaps the very sociological structure that, in the absence of ecologically realistic norms, permits widespread, historically unprecedented ecosystem exploitation and environmental degradation, is also the sociological structure that could generate ecologically realistic norms, and thus could facilitate widespread sociocultural reorganization that adaptively responds to the ecological crisis.


1For example, calculus utilizes many theoretical functions that make use of the concept of infinity. Although "infinity" is a reference point rather than a material "standpoint," use of the concept produces valid knowledge in empirical fields such as physics. Another example is the way in which religion utilizes symbols that point to undefinable mysteries in order to enable social actors to recognize and endure the "anxiety" of human failure, futility and finitude (Tillich 1948).

2For example, Freudenburg argues, with respect to social/ environmental relations, that it "is no more possible to effect a dean and unambiguous separation of the physical and the social than to saw apart the north and south poles of a magnet: Even if the magnet is sawed precisely in half, the net result win be two new magnets, each with a north and south pole. This is far from being a claim that the two are identical; clearly they are not. It is an observation, instead, that the two are perhaps best understood not in terms of their distinctions, but their fun- damental interconnectedness--of comprehending not the separation but the inseparability" (Freudenburg, et al. 1995 as quoted in Freudenburg, Frickel & Gramling 1996:171).

3It is important to note that social constructivists and positivists can both be monistic, but being monistic does not imply either positivism or social constructivism.

4For Weber, rationality is a multidimensional and ambiguous concept, and Weberian specialists disagree on the meaning of specific terminology (Bendix 1977; Landshut 1969).

5Freudenburg, Frickel & Gramling (1996:169) have suggested the term balanced dualism, but this discussion occurs in the narrower context of societal-environmental relations and excludes the question of whether or not knowledge should be considered in an epistemological manner. Balanced dualism refers to the mutual contingency of environmental and societal relations rather than to a radical separation of them and addresses the reification of concepts by emphasizing that concepts are socially constructed (or conjointly constituted) and do not concretely represent reality. But understanding reality is precisely what is of interest here, so I have not used their term. Alternatively, Jurgen Habermas (e.g., 1981) has proposed an empirically oriented and falsifiable philosophy of history with emancipatory purposes, but he has unnecessarily rejected religion as anathema to rational discourse (Dillon 1999). Alternatively, Dillon (1999) argues in favor of the practical relevance and the emancipatory potential of coupling reason and faith. Another suggested term is transcendent monism. I would argue that this may be what we currently have with globalization: a transcendent belief in one approach-global development We support its expansion religiously believing that it may proceed without limit despite ample evidence of accumulating environmental degradation. We continue to replace diverse cultural systems with one, diverse ecosystems with monocultures, and diverse social systems with one global economy. This is precisely what I am contending is problematic.

6For example, Weber emphasized that the domain of science be circumscribed by firm boundaries. "Its tasks must remain limited to 'methods of thinking, the tools and the training for thought,' and clarity: assessment of the suitability of the means to reach the given end (including an ethical ideal) and the unintended consequences of action in reference to particular ideals" (Kahlberg 2000:289). Matters of ethics, values and conscience were not to be decided upon by specialists, but by individuals who decide with reference to self-awareness of their own values.

7I am substituting "informal religious authority" for Weber's term "charismatic authority" because I consider the former term more akin to what Weber was attempting to communicate at the time. The term charisma creates misunderstandings. Weber used the term "charismatic authority" to develop a notion of authority that depends upon the consensual validation of followers (Bendix 1970:170). Weber did not intend to convey a sense of hero worship or absolute trust in any leader who has marked popular appeal, as modem uses of the term imply. Sociologists of religion are only now beginning to clearly articulate how the changes in the organization of church and state relations have changed the sociological dynamics of religious organizations.


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