English: Charisma
Charisma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charisma is a term applied by the German sociologist Max Weber to refer to a special quality possessed by rare individuals that provides them with superior leadership skills and a seemingly legitimate basis for authority.

Charisma often applies to religion as a divinely given power or ability but not always. In Weber’s words, charisma is

a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as leader.¹

Examples would be Jesus, Mohatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill.

Weber outlines two other types of authority. Along with charismatic authority, Weber adds what he calls traditional authority and legal-rational authority. These terms might seem self-explanatory to those interested in the social sciences but a good outline is provided by Dana Williams. Williams points out that Weber is well aware that the three types of authority he presents often intermingle.

¹ Economy and Society, 1922 cited in GORDON MARSHALL. “charisma.” A Dictionary of Sociology. 1998. Retrieved November 26, 2012 from


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