Max Weber, a German sociologist, sees a religion as an agent of social change. While Emile Durkeim argued religion served to maintain social stability and harmony through the act of collective worship, Weber thought religion emerged to satisfy a social need in general. For him, a religion is shared values of any society, shaping one’s thoughts and giving people a sense of hope and something to believe in. Thus, it brings changes in social relations and produce real material effects by empowering and mobilizing them in realities.
Weber was particularly interested in religions of salvation due to their huge social consequences. He thought the need for salvation arises when people are faced with discrepancies between the reality they face and the ideal they pursue. (p 288) The religions of salvation try to resolve the gap between the real and the ideal, either by escaping from life’s imperfections or by gaining mastery over the world to bring it into conformity with the ideal. He called it asceticism, by which he referred to all the religious attempts to fight the evils of life and transform the world.
Religions that fall in this category include Shinto in Japan and Rastafarianism in Jamaica. Notwithstanding the geographical divide between the two, both religions have something in common. In Weberian perspective, the two had charismatic and traditional authorities behind them, which were supported by the elements of charisma and symbolism. However, the German political economist’s hypothesis that capitalism was a product of western mind did not prove right in Japan because of the hard work and strong entrepreneurship embedded in Japanese.
Shinto is the defining element of Japanese religion and culture. It has been around for millenniums and formed the very nature and spirit of the Japanese people. For Japanese, Shinto is the way of the gods and the way of living for them at the same time. It is the base of their philosophy of life, work ethics and the piety to the imperial family. As Weber argued, Shinto could not be reduced to the economic aspect of Japanese society, and its values, norms and obligations were shared by its people.
The heart of the Shinto beliefs is the human awareness of the mysterious powers of nature. Their gods are called kamis and their spirits are believed to inhabit in heaven, earth and the underworld. (p 269) Japanese believes kamis make wind blow and volcanoes erupt and the earth shake, bringing them closer to the nature. It also has an ethic and dimensions. More than nature, they emphasize the worship of ancestors and ancient heroes by burning incense in shrines as a symbolic feature.
Japanese believe they have kami nature in them as written in Japanese mythology. The “Creation Story” on which Shinto is based says that Japanese are originally given births by the couple of deities named Izanagi and Izanami. With a life given, every man and woman should endeavor to help make the land more prosperous and stable so that...