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Reconstructing Weber’s Indian Rationalism: A Comparative Analysis


Stephen Kalberg

Max Weber’s Religion of India (RI) fails to offer his full analysis of the origins and contours of the ‘rationalism’ of India. Instead, a synthesis of this work with innumerable passages on India in, primarily, his Economy and Society and General Economic History volumes is required. When fully reconstructed in this manner, seven elements can be seen to be central to Indian rationalism. This article defines these elements through, following Weber, regular comparisons to ‘Western rationalism’ and ‘Chinese rationalism’. Doing so leads to an unorthodox conclusion: Weber’s rationalism of India construct constitutes not simply a ‘contrast case’ that serves to demarcate Western rationalism, as frequently argued; rather, it also delineates the uniqueness of India. This reconstruction further provides Weber’s more complete analysis of the origin and expansion of the many obstacles in India to the rationalization of action in the law, rulership, and economy spheres. Contrasts to the trajectory taken in the West toward modern capitalism are emphasized.

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