Authors: Bobbio, Matteucci, Pasquino
Summary: In about 1,500 words, this entry describes the classical sociological concept of charisma formulated by Max Weber, analyzes the differences between traditional and modern societies with regard to charismatic phenomena, and poses rationalization and conversion as the two basic dynamics of charisma.
Weber's conception of charisma refers to a particular kind of leadership: when a leader's authority is based neither on the sacred character of a tradition, nor on the legality and rationality of a function, but on an indwelling gift--that is, an extraordinary capability or quality within the leader. The leader may use this extraordinary quality of charisma for various tasks: religious, political, military, or philanthropic.
The entry states that charisma is likely to appear differently in traditional and modern societies. In traditional societies, a charismatic leader arises in times of fear and insecurity as a figure of hope. In more complex and more large-scale modern societies, charismatic phenomena frequently take origin through movements and groups, and within particular sub-cultures and institutions.
The two basic dynamics of charisma are rationalization and conversion. The former comes about through a progressive differentiation of functions, by means of more specialized rules and techniques. The latter is based on an inner change, on a transformation of fundamental values on behalf of a faith which is considered as a gift and a duty.
Finally, the entry points out the role of the charismatic leader within a group. At the beginning, the leader is a simple member of the community. Over time he or she gradually develops such capabilities and attains such successes that he or she comes to be considered a leader, endowed with extraordinary qualities.