Tag Archives: Religion and Economics

Conference: The Economic & Business Case for Freedom of Religion or Belief (Dec. 10)

On December 10, the United Nations NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief in New York will explore the connection between religious freedom and economic growth with a panel discussion featuring Dr. Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, and with responses from Prof. Silvio Ferrari, an expert on freedom of religion and the law, and Jeffrey French, an expert in the peacemaking potential of business.

Get more information here.

Conference at Catholic University: “The Relationship between Religious and Economic Liberty”

On November 10, 2014, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty will hold a day-long conference entitled “The Relationship between Religious & Economic Liberty in an Age of Expanding Government.” The conference is hosted by the Catholic University of America.

Throughout Western developed nations, there is dawning recognition that robust protections for religious liberty can no longer be taken for granted. Less understood are the ways in which infringements of other political, civil and commercial forms of freedom can subtly undermine religious liberty: but also vice-versa. Businesses and other institutions of civil society now need to consider how the restrictions of religious freedom by governments throughout the Western world is likely to affect them. What then is the relationship of religious liberty to other expressions of freedom?

Details can be found here.

“Money as God?” (von Hagen & Welker, eds.)

Last month, Cambridge University Press released Money as God: The Monetization of the Market and its Impact on Religion, Politics, Law, and Ethics edited by Jürgen von Hagen (Universität Bonn) and Michael Welker (Universität Heidelberg). The publisher’s description follows:money as god

The nature of money and its impact on society has long interested scholars of economics, history, philosophy, law, and theology alike, and the recent financial crisis has moved these issues to the forefront of current public debate. In this study, authors from a range of backgrounds provide a unified examination of the nature and the purpose of money. Chapters cover the economic and social foundations of money; the historical origins of money in ancient Greece, China, the ancient Middle East, and medieval Europe; problems of justice connected to the use of money in legal systems and legal settlements, with examples both from ancient history and today; and theological aspects of monetary and market exchange. This stimulating interdisciplinary book, with its nontechnical and lively discussion, will appeal to a global readership working in the interfaces of economics, law and religion.

What’s Your Social Class?

Here is a fun quiz from the Christian Science Monitor that purports to identify one’s socioeconomic status. The questions are about psychology, tastes, and personality traits, not salary. For example, a few test how well one identifies emotions. Our readers should pay particular attention to the religious identity question (number 19) and the diagnostic explanation at the end of the quiz. Do you know which religious group in America is the wealthiest and best educated?

For what it’s worth, my own socioeconomic status, according to the test, is “Middling.” Hey, it’s better than “Upper Class”:

MIDDLING: Your habits and perspectives most resemble those of middle-class Americans. Members of this group tend to be gentle and engaging parents, and if they’re native English speakers they probably use some regional idioms and inflections. Your people are mostly college-educated, and you’re about equally likely to beg children not to shout “so loudly” as you are to ask them to “read slow” during story time. You’re probably a decent judge of others’ emotions, and either a non-evangelical Christian, an atheist, or an agnostic. A typical member of this group breastfeeds for three months or less, drinks diet soda, and visits the dentist regularly. If you’re a member of this group, there’s a good chance that you roll with the flow of technological progress and hate heavy metal music.

H/T: Rod Dreher.

Abend, “The Moral Background”

k10263This March, Princeton University Press will publish The Moral Background: An Inquiry into the History of Business Ethics by Gabriel Abend (New York University). The publisher’s description follows.

In recent years, many disciplines have become interested in the scientific study of morality. However, a conceptual framework for this work is still lacking. In The Moral Background, Gabriel Abend develops just such a framework and uses it to investigate the history of business ethics in the United States from the 1850s to the 1930s.

According to Abend, morality consists of three levels: moral and immoral behavior, or the behavioral level; moral understandings and norms, or the normative level; and the moral background, which includes what moral concepts exist in a society, what moral methods can be used, what reasons can be given, and what objects can be morally evaluated at all. This background underlies the behavioral and normative levels; it supports, facilitates, and enables them.

Through this perspective, Abend historically examines the work of numerous business ethicists and organizations–such as Protestant ministers, business associations, and business schools–and identifies two types of moral background. “Standards of Practice” is characterized by its scientific worldview, moral relativism, and emphasis on individuals’ actions and decisions. The “Christian Merchant” type is characterized by its Christian worldview, moral objectivism, and conception of a person’s life as a unity.

The Moral Background offers both an original account of the history of business ethics and a novel framework for understanding and investigating morality in general.

Alizadeh & Hakimian (eds.), “Iran and the Global Economy: Petro Populism, Islam and Economic Sanctions”

Last month, Routledge published Iran and the Global Economy: Petro Populism, Islam and Economic Sanctions edited by Parvin Alizadeh (Boston Iran and the Global EconomyUniversity) and Hassan Hakimian (University of London).  The publisher’s description follows.

The relationship between religion and the state has entered a new phase ever since the Iranian Revolution more than three decades ago. The recent mass uprisings against autocratic rulers in the Arab world have highlighted the potency of Islamist forces in post-revolutionary societies in the region, a force arguably unlocked first by Iran’s version of the ‘spring’ three decades ago. The economic ramifications of these uprisings are of special interest at a time when the possibility of the creation of Islamic states can have implications for their economic policy and performance again. A study of the Iranian experience in itself can offer rare insights whether for its own features and characteristics or for its possible lessons and implications for recent events in the region. This book is concerned with the economic aspects and consequences of the Iranian Revolution in general and its interaction with the international economy in particular. Many studies have to date dealt with Iran’s economic challenges, policies and performance in the post-revolutionary period but its interaction with the international economy – although of growing importance – has not received sufficient attention. The contributions in this volume by experts in the field address ways in which in the span of three decades, Iran’s economy has evolved from a strong aspiration to develop an ‘independent economy’ to grappling with debilitating international economic sanctions.

Podcast on the Economics of Religion

The Library of Economics and Liberty has posted an interesting-looking podcast by University of Washington Professor Anthony Gill on the economics of religion:

Anthony Gill of the University of Washington and host of the podcast Research on Religion talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the economics of religion. The conversation focuses on the relationship between religion and the State–how does religion respond to a State-sanctioned monopoly? Why do some governments allow religious liberty while others deny it? The conversation concludes with a discussion of how property rights interact with religious freedom.

You can download the podcast, and see a partial transcript, here.

Oslington (ed.), “The Oxford Handbook of Christianity and Economics”

Next month, Oxford will publish The Oxford Handbook of Christianity and 9780199729715_140Economics, edited by Paul Oslington (Australian Catholic University). The publisher’s description follows.

Many important contemporary debates cross economics and religion, in turn raising questions about the relationship between the two fields. This book, edited by a leader in the new interdisciplinary field of economics and religion and with contributions by experts on different aspects of the relationship between economics and Christianity, maps the current state of scholarship and points to new directions for the field. It covers the history of the relationship between economics and Christianity, economic thinking in the main Christian traditions, and the role of religion in economic development, as well as new work on the economics of religious behavior and religious markets and topics of debate between economists and theologians. It is essential reading for economists concerned with the foundations of their discipline, historians, moral philosophers, theologians seeking to engage with economics, and public policy researchers and practitioners.

A Non-Political Pope?

You can’t tell too much from one interview, of course, but the interview Pope Francis gave an Italian Jesuit journal last month, and which was released last week, seems like a blockbuster. Everyone understands this. Progressive Catholics are elated. After long years in the wilderness, they believe, they have one of their own as pope. Traditionalists have been more circumspect, but it’s hard to miss the sense of alienation. Traditionalists are used to thinking that, however much they have to battle with progressives at the local level, the pope has their back. Now, that’s very unclear.

As an outsider, I don’t feel right getting involved in intra-Catholic debates. There’s too much I don’t know, and anyway it’s not polite. But this interview does suggest three observations. First, Pope Francis has a definite vision for the Catholic Church. When he gave his airborne interview on the way back from Brazil last month–the interview in which he famously said, “who am I to judge?”–some traditionalists consoled themselves that he had spoken off the cuff or allowed himself to be misunderstood. After this interview, it’s impossible to think so. He knows what he means and means what he says.

Second, I’m not sure the pope is correct to suggest that the Church has been obsessing over sexuality–abortion, gay marriage, contraception. Catholic friends tell me they almost never hear sermons on these subjects. One might say, with justification, that the wider society is obsessing about these issues and the Church is only responding. If the government adopts a new rule that says you must pay for your employees’ contraceptives and abortifacients, and you think such drugs are gravely wrong as a matter of conscience, what should you do? I suppose you could readjust your priorities and say nothing. But if you were to object to such a rule, you would hardly be “obsessing.”

Third, it’s striking that in a long interview the pope said virtually nothing about politics. Only twice did he refer to the Church’s position on public policy questions, once to state that the Church should stop talking so much about sexuality and once to refer to the proper approach to “social issues”:

When it comes to social issues, it is one thing to have a meeting to study the problem of drugs in a slum neighborhood and quite another thing to go there, live there and understand the problem from the inside and study it. There is a brilliant letter by Father Arrupe to the Centers for Social Research and Action on poverty, in which he says clearly that one cannot speak of poverty if one does not experience poverty, with a direct connection to the places in which there is poverty. The word insertion is dangerous because some religious have taken it as a fad, and disasters have occurred because of a lack of discernment. But it is truly important.

Note a couple of things here. For Pope Francis, the phrase “social issues” connotes what Americans would call “economic issues”–an interesting distinction. More important, to address these issues, Pope Francis did not call for political action. He did not say, “When it comes to social issues, the important thing is to redistribute wealth and nationalize health care.” He may favor such programs, I don’t know. But he apparently does not think political programs are terribly important. The essential thing is for the Church to live among poor people, to share their lives, to minister to them–in order to witness to the Gospel. 

In other words, Pope Francis’s interview does not suggest he would like the Catholic Church to adopt a “progressive” politics any more than a “conservative” politics. It suggests he thinks the Church is beyond politics. To me, this is the key take-away from the pope’s interview. There is an old, old debate in Christianity. Is the faith about healing souls or social justice? It’s about both, of course, but which is more important? If I read him correctly, Pope Francis leans strongly in the first direction: Christianity is an interior matter, a question of salvation, of walking humbly in the company of the Lord and his followers. Christians can never be completely beyond politics, of course, and it will be interesting to see how this all develops. But Pope Francis seems, in his way, a mystic. And mystics don’t do politics.