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In his landmark workThe Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), the German sociologist Max Weber offered a radical and sweeping explanation for the rise of modern capitalism. He saw capitalism arise first in Protestant countries so, contrary to the Marxist explanation, Weber claimed that it was Protestantism that drove the transformation to capitalism. He paid particular attention to the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, which holds that God determines, at the beginning of time, if each human is saved or damned. How could such a stark theological idea lead to capitalism? According to Weber, it introduced an extraordinarily productive tension into human society. While people could not change their souls’ fate, they could hope to see evidence that they might be among the saved through the discipline and fruitfulness of their labour. This brief animation from BBC Radio 4’s A History of Ideas series explores how Calvinism sanctified work, making everyday labour, for the first time in history, a potentially holy activity.
Even in modern secular societies, belief in an afterlife persists. Why?
Design and fashion
The mundane becomes mesmerising in this deep dive into segmented displays
Tour the European architecture that dreamed of a wondrous, fictitious China
Trek alongside spiritual pilgrims on a treacherous journey across Pakistan
Thinkers and theories
Photographs offer a colonialist window to the past – one that must be challenged
Animals and humans
An artist and ants collaborate on an exhibit of ‘tiny Abstract Expressionist paintings’
How a curious question about colouring maps changed mathematics forever
Meaning and the good life
The world turns vivid, strange and philosophical for one plane crash survivor
The rise and fall of Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong’s infamous urban monolith