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Challenging Merton's Protestantism-Science Hypothesis: The Historical Impact of Sacerdotal Celibacy on German Science and Scholarship

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Denominational differences in the number of scientists produced in Germany during the period 1550 to 1900 are linked to the historical impact of Catholic celibate and Protestant noncelibate clergy households. Protestant leadership in science is largely attributable to the development of a new social mobility pattern among descendants of their clergy that enhanced the pastorate's ability to convey cultural and social capital to their marrying offspring, something denied to Catholic clergy. By reference to German historical developments, I show that the contributions of clerical households, far from being limited to the natural sciences, were equally in evidence across most other areas of scholarly endeavor. A discussion of the theoretical implications of these findings provides a comparative analysis of Protestant to Catholic scholarly achievements in general, and of scientific achievements in particular, as well as a critical assessment of Robert K. Merton's theorizing on the subject.
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Keywords: Merton thesis; sacerdotal celibacy; science; social mobility

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology Vanderbilt University

Publication date: 2011-06-01

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