Jul 26, 2012

The Cistercians, culture, and economic development

. . . [T]he Cistercians influenced comparative regional development across English counties, even after the monasteries were dissolved in the 1530s. Moreover, we find that the values emphasized by Weber are comparatively more pervasive in regions where Cistercian monasteries were found historically. Pre-industrial development in England may thus have been propelled by a process of growth through cultural change.
That is the abstract of a new paper by Barnebeck Andersen et al (July 2012), "Religious Orders and Growth through Cultural Change in Pre-Industrial England." They conclude:
. . . [T]he Cistercians ignited a process of growth through cultural change. That is, a gradual change in local populations in terms of taste for hard work and thrift; much like Max Weber suggested was the end result of the Protestant Reformation. 
We believe this explanation is plausible for three reasons. First, a cultural concordance between the Cistercians and the Protestants, in the dimensions of work ethic and thrift, has already been observed by several scholars including Weber himself. Second, the cultural explanation has the virtue of being able to plausibly account for the long-term persistency of Cistercian influence on growth. Third, consistent with the cultural mechanism we find, using data from the European Values Survey, that Catholic regions in Europe which historically were influenced relatively more by the Cistercians tend to have populations with greater taste for hard work and, to a lesser extent, thrift today. 
Overall, this research suggests that Weber was right in stressing the importance of a cultural appreciation of hard work and thrift, but quite likely wrong in tracing the origins of these values to the Protestant Reformation.
HT: Roberto Zanola. 

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