The relationship between religion and capitalism has long exercised historians of the United States, and before them it concerned the people whom historians study. In this class, you will meet many people whose religion led them to interact with capitalism in incredibly diverse ways. You will meet the Puritans whose work ethic supposedly created capitalism, but who insisted on resting on the Sabbath; Moravian missionaries who made converts and money; slaves, slaveowners, and abolitionists who all claimed the Bible when reckoning with the capitalist system of slavery; a Protestant writer who insisted that Jesus was a businessman, and Catholics who believed Jesus called them to a kind of socialism; African American preachers who marketed their recorded sermons; Jews who mass-manufactured matzah and created Yiddish socialism; an industrialist who wrote The Gospel of Wealth, and laborers who created churches for the working class; nineteenth-century consumers who turned gift-giving into a ritual, and a twenty-first-century television personality who turned consumption into therapy; converts who thought religion required poverty, and Prosperity Gospelers who thought it promised wealth. You will read primary sources from American history, secondary works in both religious history and the new history of capitalism, and excerpts from theorists of religion and capitalism. Through these readings and your own research project, you are invited make sense of this perpetual historical puzzle.

How to Do Well in This Seminar

This seminar will be a shared investigation into the history of religion and capitalism that will require you both to read broadly and to research with focus. In preparation for our meetings read broadly in the fields of both American religion and the history of capitalism. You will have to work to make connections between those two fields and to find shared themes across time, space, and religions. As we read in both fields, you will have to grasp the concepts borrowed from thinkers like Weber, Mauss, and Marx, and see whether they are useful for your own research. You should select a topic for research that is manageable within the scope of a semester but that sheds light on the broader themes we are discussing. I suggest that you settle on a general topic early in the seminar and devise a plan to scaffold your critical review assignments in service of your final project. Come talk to me as often as is helpful to you. I am also glad to meet in person. I am often in my office and we can make appointments to discuss the course.

Required Books

You should bring a copy of the readings for each week to our meetings. See the schedule for full citations. Any work not listed below will be made available as a scanned PDF.

I suggest that you purchase the following books:

  • Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom (ISBN: 9780252072833).
  • Bowler, Blessed (ISBN: 9780199827695).
  • Davenport, Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon (ISBN: 9780226137063).
  • Engel, Religion and Profit (ISBN: 9780812221855).
  • Giggie, After Redemption (ISBN: 9780195304039).
  • Heineman, Catholic New Deal (ISBN: 9780271028866).
  • Hudnut-Beumler, In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar (ISBN: 9781469614755).
  • Kobrin, Chosen Capital (ISBN: 9780813553085).
  • McDannell, Material Christianity (ISBN: 9780300074994).
  • Moreton, To Serve God and Wal-Mart (ISBN: 9780674057401).
  • Noll, God and Mammon (ISBN: 9780195148015).
  • Phillips, Kingdom on Earth (ISBN: 9780271030463).
  • Schmidt, Consumer Rites (ISBN: 9780691017211).
  • Valeri, Heavenly Merchandize (ISBN: 9780691162171).

We will read large portions of the following books. You can find these for free online, but these editions are suggested if you wish to purchase them in print.