Posts Tagged ‘market’

America’s Religious Market

America has long been the most religious of the affluent, western nations, having the most professing and practicing population. (A couple of the nearly 100% Catholic countries are close, but only Canada otherwise.) Explaining this aspect of American exceptionalism has preoccupied many scholars of religion. Part of the answer is that since the early 1800s the United States has had no established religion and has had instead a free “marketplace” of religion. Suppliers – that is, churches and ministers – emerged to meet nearly every religious “taste” people might have.

The early days of this market had all the features of an unsettled market free-for all, exacerbated by the unsettled features of American law. Today, our religious “market” is far more orderly, but we still shop around.


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circuit riders

19th C. Evangelical Minister (Source)

I recently received an email from a woman who had read my Boston Review column on how the political left and churches in the U.S. have drifted apart in the last few decades. There had been a vibrant religious left in the 1960s, but now the phrase, “religious progressive” seems (as one liberal commenter to the column insisted) “an oxymoron.” The conservative e-mailer also insisted that a reconciliation of the left and religion was impossible, because “either you understand the Bible or you don’t.  Left-liberals don’t ….”

Our exchange did not go very far. But it made me want to revisit more explicitly the point that the contemporary alliance between laissez faire, free market ideology and conservative Christians is, if not an unholy alliance, certainly an historically unusual one. The two were, for most of our history, in conflict.


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Out- and Insourcing

Need a date? Log in to a dating service. Need to feed dinner guests? Call a caterer. Your kid is applying for college? Hire a counselor. Have a worry? Sign up with a therapist or life coach. Don’t do it yourself, buy it – whatever “it” is.


Sociologist Arlie Hochschild, the author of innovative, path-breaking books such as The Managed Heart, The Second Shift, and The Time Bind, has another one coming, The Outsourced Self, which she previewed in May 6’s New York Times (here). In the article, she points out the many personal goods and services that one can buy these days. And she worries that something is being sacrificed for the convenience and efficiency of the market, that by outsourcing we are losing a part of our selves and of our intimate ties.

My small contribution in this post is to add – as I often do in conversations with Arlie, who is a long-time friend and Berkeley colleague – a historical dimension. Outsourcing personal services is not new in this or even the last century. More striking still, Americans have in recent generations turned to insourcing critical family goods and services that we once outsourced.


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