Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version


Introduced in the work of Max Weber, the concept of the religious virtuoso is that of someone who strives for perfection within an existing religious tradition. The virtuoso strives to fulfill to the utmost the demands of his or her religion. Strictly speaking, virtuoso religiosity is the polar opposite of charismatic religiosity, in that the charismatic introduces a "new thing" or a distinctive "gift," while the virtuoso is set on a course toward embodying the received traditions of a faith community. In practice, the virtuoso may at times go to such extremes that she or he unwittingly becomes a charismatic leader, particularly if the constituted authorities of his or her tradition reject the virtuoso's claims to legitimacy. In Western Christianity, Catholic virtuosity often has resulted in the founding of new religious orders , whereas in Protestantism it has created schisms, hence sects. The most recent comprehensive contribution to the study of religious virtuosity is Patricia Wittberg's The Rise and Fall of Catholic Religious Orders (SUNY Press 1994).

See also Asceticism, Charisma, Max Weber

William H. Swatos, Jr .


M. Hill, The Religious Order (London: Heinemann, 1973)

M. Weber, Economy and Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).

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