Prophets and Profits
On Economies of Economic Goods in Economies of Salvation
Keywords:Pierre Bourdieu, Economies of symbolic goods, Christianity, Protestantism
Pierre Bourdieu suggested that religion is an example of what he called an "economy of symbolic goods," a field of social practice governed by the logic of disinterestedness, in which successful participants must disavow self-interest and the pursuit of economic goods and profits. Bourdieu argued that within such economies, symbolic as well as economic profits can only be accrued through such strategies as refusals to calculate, taboos against making costs and values explicit, and choreographing of exchanges to make them appear discontinuous and gratuitous. This essay uses the New Testament writings of Paul and Protestant texts by the German Reformer Martin Luther and American Presbyterian William Speer, in each of which economic interests are openly expressed and economic strategies and values promoted, to suggest modifications to Bourdieu's understanding of how economies of symbolic goods and economies of economic goods are mutually defined and interrelate.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
———. 1990a. In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology. Translated by Matthew Adamson. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
———. 1990b. The Logic of Practice. Translated by Richard Nice. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
———. 1991a. “Genesis and Structure of the Religious Field.” Translated by Jenny B. Burnside, Craig Calhoun, and Leah Florence. Comparative Social Research 13:1-44.
———. 1991b. Language and Symbolic Power. Edited by John B. Thompson. Translated by Gino Raymond and Matthew Adamson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
———. 1993. The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature. Edited by Randal Johnson. New York: Columbia University Press.
———. 1998. Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
———. 2000. Pascalian Meditations. Translated by Richard Nice. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Durkheim, Émile. 1995. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Translated by Karen E. Fields. New York: The Free Press.
Luther, Martin. 1962. “The Pagan Servitude of the Church.” Translated by Bertram Lee Woolf. In Martin Luther: Selections From his Writings, edited by John Dillenberger, 249–359. New York: Anchor Books.
———. 1964. “Lectures on Galatians 1535 Chapters 5-6,” translated by Jaroslav Pelikan. In Luther’s Works, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, 27:3–149. Saint Louis: Concordia.
———. 2007. “Ordinance of a Common Chest, 1523.” Translated by A. T. W. Steinhaeuser and Walther I. Brandt. In Selected Writings of Martin Luther: 1520-1523, edited by Theodore G. Tappert, 335-70. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Smith, Christian, and Michael O. Emerson, with Patricia Snell. 2008. Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Smith, Jonathan Z. 1990. Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Speer, William. 1875. God’s Rule for Christian Giving: A Practical Essay on the Science of Christian Economy. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication.
Stahler, Michael L. 1970. “William Speer: Champion of California’s Chinese, 1852–1857.” Journal of Presbyterian History 48:113–29.
Weber, Max. 2001 (1930). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Talcott Parsons. New York: Routledge.
Woo, Wesley S. 1990. “Presbyterian Mission: Christianizing and Civilizing the Chinese in Nineteenth Century California.” American Presbyterians 68:167–78.