Sociologists find similarities in meanings behind protestant work ethic, religious tattoos

Jan 23, 2013

(Phys.org)—When it comes to religious tattoos, two Texas Tech University sociologists say the reasoning and spirit behind them is strikingly similar to a 100-year-old theory about how the Protestant work ethic powered the Industrial Revolution.

Professors Jerry Koch and Alden Roberts recently published their findings in the peer-reviewed The Social Science Journal.

Both said the sentiment behind the tattoos is reminiscent of Max Weber's famous 1905 sociological work "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism." Koch and Roberts' research is part of a larger study called Religion and Deviance at Four American Universities, which expands their research from the previous five years to give more national context.

"This particular article came out of some data we gathered and started as an afterthought to a ," Koch said. "At the end of the questionnaire, we appended an essay question and gave respondents a chance to tell us, if they had one, the story of their religious tattoo. As we started reading through the essays they wrote for us, we started to hear what we knew Max Weber would have appreciated. That, in a sense, these respondents were telling us 'I want everyone to know that I believe I'm one of God's people; and here is the evidence of that.'"

Go back nearly 100 years ago, and Weber described in this founding text of economic sociology how Calvinist views on their purpose on the planet helped to drive the Industrial Revolution, Koch said. A person's profession, no matter how grand or lowly, was seen as an addition to the greater common good, and thereby blessed by God as a sacred calling. Work, for these , became a visible expression of their faith, and consequently helped to drive the machinery of the unplanned of the 19th century.

"Weber argued that the diligence and integrity that we often associate with Protestant work ethic was in one sense a way for individuals to demonstrate to themselves and others that they must be one of God's elect, otherwise why would they be doing so well," Koch said. "We are making the parallel saying that the rationale behind and the energy it takes to get a religious tattoo is perhaps to show the same thing."

In Koch and Roberts' study, the two gathered tattoo survey data from about 70 undergraduates at four American universities. Two were large, state-supported public institutions, and the other two were highly selective, private religious universities.

Koch and Roberts both noted this same Weberian spirit of public expression as respondents to their last-minute questions repeatedly indicated that their religious tattoos were, for them, evidence of the permanence of their faith, outward signs of religious commitment, or memorials to those they've loved and lost and presumably who they hoped went to heaven when they died.

About 65 percent of the respondents with religious tattoos came from secular state schools, the two found. However, 44 percent of the Southern Baptist students that reported having tattoos indicated that at least one was religious.

"The reasons for the religious tattoos were some people wanted a permanent reminder, or permanent advertisement to others," Roberts said. "There were some that were troubled by the idea the body being a temple, others were not as troubled by that. Those who got religious tattoos were more likely to overtly express religiosity."

The permanence of a tattoo drew many to get one as a permanent insignia of their faith. Several indicated they got it in memory of someone that they loved, Koch said, while others got it as a way of telling themselves and others that their life had changed.

"One respondent explicitly said 'I got this tattoo after I lost my virginity as a recommitment to purity,'" Koch said. "It was surprising and a happy accident that the information mirrored where Weber was coming from. I hadn't anticipated that at the end of the day we would have what I think is a useful teaching tool for showing students what Weber was about using this new imagery."

Explore further: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

More information: For a copy of the research paper, visit courses.ttu.edu/jkoch/Research/PERT.pdf.

Previous research in which Koch, Roberts and others surveyed students' attitudes and experiences regarding religious belief and practice, social behavior and body art can be found at courses.ttu.edu/jkoch/Research/Moral%20Community.htm. This became the basis for our current project, funded for more than $100,000 and titled Seeking the Moral Community – Religion, Deviance and Well-being Among American University Students.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study examines motivations for tattoo removal

Jul 21, 2008

Individuals who visit dermatology clinics for tattoo removal are more likely to be women than men, and may be motivated by the social stigma associated with tattoos and negative comments by others, according to a report in ...

Most Teens Don't Stop to Think About Tattoo-Removal Risks

Mar 03, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Many adolescents think about getting tattoos, but less than half know what’s involved in having them removed, according to an Italian study appearing online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.