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date: 26 September 2020

Summary and Keywords

There is a long and complicated relationship between religious activities and marketplace activities in the United States. Despite popular expectations that these spheres of life, the sacred and profane, ought to be completely separate, the two are often intimately related. Further, the relationship is messy, multifold, and complex.

In contemporary American life, the connections are readily visible. Churches employ branding experts, while tech companies forgo profit to promote disruptions that promise to save the world. Christians organize financial seminars and corporations sponsor spiritual retreats. According to the Supreme Court, some companies have religious beliefs. Meanwhile, the spiritual-but-not-religious express their spirituality with practices of ethical consumption. Advertisers promise “your best life now,” as do prosperity preachers. The sacrament of marriage is worth billions, built on the belief that the special day deserves and requires special expense. Holidays are big business, and so are Bibles.

This is not a new phenomenon, either. It was a religious group that invented corn flakes. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was a joint stock company before it was a model for Christian charity. The Quakers made an economic argument for religious freedom. Revivalist preachers were often as skilled in advertizing as they were in sermonizing. The leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faced religious persecution in Ohio in the 1850s, but were also opposed because of their wildcat bank. It was economic interests that brought the Catholic and Jewish immigrants, who challenged Protestant dominance of American life. End-to-end, American culture is chockfull of case studies of the manifold, mutual, and often highly contradictory forms of interaction between religion and marketplace.

Religion-and-the-marketplace studies examine these interactions. The field is quite diverse, and includes a number of different disciplines that ask different questions. There are, broadly speaking, three approaches to religion-and-the-marketplace studies. One looks at the market conditions that shaped or influenced religious movements. One makes use of economic terms to explain religious diversity in America. One looks at the underlying assumptions that unite religious activity and market activity.

Keywords: marketplace, economics, business, brand, commodification, consumption, supply and demand, pluralism, secularization

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