Religion and the Marketplace in the United States eds. by Jan Stievermann, Philip Goff, and Detlef Junker (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Jan Stievermann, Philip Goff, and Detlef Junker, eds. Religion and the Marketplace in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press 2015. xii + 295 pp. ISBN 9780199361793, 9780199361809, $99.00 (cloth). $35.00 (cloth).

Since the 1990s, a steady stream of academic work has examined the complex interplay between "religion" and "the market." Conventional wisdom once considered capitalism the harbinger of secular society, thus these studies presumed religion's decline or noted its paradoxical persistence. However, scholars have since abandoned this conventional wisdom, swayed by mounting evidence of longstanding connections between religion and capitalism that have become only more pronounced in the present. This turn produced innovative studies that systematically and substantively engaged the historiographies of both business and religion. The resulting work created something indispensable for both fields, but it developed without an organizing framework. If religion is not competing with the market in a zero-sum game, how should this relationship be characterized?

Religion and the Marketplace in the United States, a collection of twelve essays by both new and established scholars of religion, is a helpful contribution to this discussion. Its five sections smartly lay out the state of the field, suggest productive avenues for future research, and offer new ways to connect religion and the marketplace.

A general introduction provides a helpful overview of the field. Most historical work is rooted in material culture studies, which can be grouped into two lines of inquiry. One line focuses on the "literal, concrete intersections" (5) between religion and business and takes as its subjects either religious businesses (religious publishers, for example) or business-like religious institutions. The other approach examines the interplay between economic ideas and religious beliefs. These "concrete" and "ideological" approaches may seem incommensurate, but the volume demonstrates otherwise.

The collection also targets two longstanding metanarratives for demolition. The "single-explanation" (9) metanarrative, rooted in Karl Marx and Max Weber, presumes that economic and religious spheres can be easily separated and that one explains the other. The "religious marketplace" metanarrative, rooted in rational choice theory, uses the metaphor to explain the unusual religiosity of the United States among industrialized countries. E. Brooks Holifield directly tackles this second metanarrative in the volume's first section. A freedom to choose religious affiliation may have contributed something to the nation's religious vitality, he argues, but a full explanation must account for multiple causes and historical contingency. [End Page 458]

Part Two uses a single religious group, evangelicals, to model how "ideological" and "concrete" approaches can work together. Mark Valeri uses merchant participants in the eighteenth-century "Great Awakening" to reveal significant ideological contributions evangelicals made to modern capitalism, contributions that Weber missed. Grant Wacker, in contrast, focuses on the ways that Billy Graham borrowed concrete business practices. Hilde Løvdal Stephens then returns to ideas, showing that modern evangelicals' unabashed lionization of free market ideology does not automatically translate into a laissez-faire morality.

Part Three is organized around a single business sector, publishing, and includes some of the strongest essays in the collection. Daniel Silliman's economic history of the bestselling apocalyptic book series Left Behind challenges the widespread practice of divining an era's cultural zeitgeist from bestsellers. Matthew Hedstrom illuminates how genre-makers at Harper Publishers (later HarperSanFrancisco) were inspired by the ideas of William James to reimagine the category "religion" as a "universal quest" (128). Combined, these essays show the intricate connections between ideas and structures. This section also includes an essay by Günter Leypoldt that explores Toni Morrison's encounter with Oprah Winfrey. In it, the "capital" is cultural and the "sacred" is a metaphorical reference to the opinions of literary critics.

Leypoldt's essay would have fit better in Part Four, which shifts from history to critical theory, and with it to the metaphorical treatment of "religion as the marketplace" (22). Katia Rakow provides an illuminating explanation of how the branding practices of mega-church minister Joel Osteen create subjects defined primarily by their individual choices. In addition, Sarah Pike offers a religious analysis of Coachella, Burning Man, and other festivals; and Anthony Santoro argues that sports stadiums have a religious core. These essays will be a...


pdf