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Economy and Religion beyond Neoclasscial Economics of Religion

Panel Chair: Alexander Alberts | Friday, August 28, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

The distinction between an 'economic' and a 'religious' sphere in human affairs has proven fruitful and controversial at the same time, in the history as well as historiography and systematic study of religions. Yet, scholars of religion have been rather reluctant to exploit the resulting relationships between 'economy' and 'religion'. Though some steps have been made towards an 'economy of religion' from a religious studies perspective, the field is still predominated by neoclassical economics of religion. Moreover, in religious studies the reception of approaches such as anthropological 'economie religieuse' and economic sociology is marginal at best. This panel wants to compensate for this imbalance and goes beyond the neoclassical paradigm. It therefore provides an invitation to employ more widely the heuristic distinction between “economy” and “religion”, discussing the application of new institutional economics, Marx's intrinsic analogy between capital and religion, and finally capitalism as religion.

Lucas Zapf

A Conceptual Framework for the Economics of Religion

The economics of religion explore the interplay between religion, economy, and economics. Its interdisciplinary nature leads to a multitude of methods and theories involved. The paper provides a conceptual framework and a systematical overview of different approaches in the economics of religion while paying special attention to the relationship between economics and the study of religion. A tangible example of how to describe the influence of religion on economic processes (i.e. religion as an independent variable) substantiates the systematization. The paper will argue that the theoretical framework of New Institutional Economics is especially commensurable with a religious studies perspective on the economics of religion. Methodological issues will be discussed by employing a comparative approach and the concept of mental models. The paper opens a perspective on the economics of religion beyond disciplinary constraints and promotes an innovative research approach.

Jens Schlamelcher

Enslaving the Creator: Analogies of Religion and Capital in the early and late Works of Karl Marx

What are the differences between 'economy' and 'religion'? How can we grasp the relation between these two 'spheres', 'fields' or 'functional systems'? These questions are still paramount in the sociology of religion. Recent approaches such as proposed in the new paradigm of economics of religion tend to deny any differences between them, conceiving religion as just another 'market'. As this paper will show, the classic Karl Marx has found more subtle answers to these questions. This presentation aims to revisit his insights and show the intrinsic analogies between religion and capital in his theory. Marx never questioned Feuerbach's thesis of religion as a human invention resulting in subordination. However, he revealed that capital functions in precisely the same way on a material plane. Second, Marx proved that capitalist modes of exploitation can, due to its generic production of 'false consciousness', ignore religion as a primary justification for material exploitation. Thus, Marx offers an understanding of both modernity and re-sacralization at the same time.

Alexander Alberts

Capitalism as religion? A typology of a convoluted comparison

For over 150 years, writers, theologians and scholars have sought to compare the strive for monetary profit (and its justification by laissez-faire) to religion (“capitalism as religion”, abbr. CAR). According to CAR, elements commonly understood as belonging to the economic system of society (e.g. capitalism, money) are in fact intrinsically religious. This (mostly normative) discourse has received little attention from scholars of religion up till now. Its function, inner motives and axioms remain unstudied. Promoting a systematic analysis of CAR, this paper proposes a typology of the major distinctions operative in CAR's topoi. Inspired by sociological systems theory, it refrains from interpreting CAR in terms of a causal history of ideas. Rather, it adopts a perspective based on distinction theory and Luhmann's evolution of ideas. From this analysis the paper concludes with a critique of CAR.

Lionel Obadia


Lionel Obadia will respond to the issues raised in the three papers.


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A  B  C  D 
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