Religion and the Marketplace in the United States

Religion and the Marketplace in the United States

Religion and the Marketplace in the United States

Religion and the Marketplace in the United States

Synopsis

Alexis de Tocqueville once described the national character of Americans as one question insistently asked: "How much money will it bring in?" G.K. Chesterton, a century later, described America as a "nation with a soul of a church." At first glance, the two observations might appear to be diametrically opposed, but this volume shows the ways in which American religion and American business overlap and interact with one another, defining the US in terms of religion, and religion in terms of economics. Bringing together original contributions by leading experts and rising scholars from both America and Europe, the volume pushes this field of study forward by examining the ways religions and markets in relationship can provide powerful insights and open unseen aspects into both. In essays ranging from colonial American mercantilism to modern megachurches, from literary markets to popular festivals, the authors explore how religious behavior is shaped by commerce, and how commercial practices are informed by religion. By focusing on what historians often use off-handedly as a metaphor or analogy, the volume offers new insights into three varieties of relationships: religion and the marketplace, religion in the marketplace, and religion as the marketplace. Using these categories, the contributors test the assumptions scholars have come to hold, and offer deeper insights into religion and the marketplace in America.

Excerpt

“IN OUR TIMES,” R. Laurence Moore wrote in his landmark 1994 Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture, “it is hard to imagine a religious organization whose operations are totally outside a market model.” The truth of that observation has not diminished in the intervening years. Things that once might have seemed overstated for effect are today quite literally the case. Moore wondered about a future where would-be prophets would have to “learn the ways of Disneyland in order to find their audience.” That was metaphorical then. It is an actual practice now. The fastest-growing evangelical church in the United States in 2012 was Triumph Church, a multisite megachurch in Detroit, Michigan, with more than 11,500 in regular attendance. Staff and volunteers at Triumph are trained by Disney Institute. Twenty years ago, Moore speculated that religious leaders would struggle “to reach the many Americans who would feel perfectly comfortable at a prayer breakfast held under McDonald’s generous golden arches.” He was invoking the fast food franchise to make a point. Since then, more than a few Christian outreach programs have been modeled on Ray Kroc’s ideas. One can, for example, find drive-thru prayer ministries run by Seventh-day Adventists in California, Pentecostals in Florida and Michigan, Independent Christian Churches in Arizona and Texas, Methodists in Georgia and North Carolina, and even Lutherans in Massachusetts.

These recent cases powerfully demonstrate that the embrace between American religion and the market has, if anything, become even stronger and more encompassing over the past twenty years. Religious adaptation . . .

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