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Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism

University of Edinburgh

The current configuration of capitalism, in which finance plays a dominant role, has the capacity to shape people in ways that hinder the development of any critical perspective on it.  This series of lectures will explore the various cultural forms of finance-dominated capitalism and suggest how their pervasive force in human life might be countered by Christian beliefs and practices with a comparable person-shaping capacity. In this way, these lectures reverse the project of the German sociologist Max Weber in his Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, while employing much the same methods as he used.  Weber showed how Christian beliefs and practices could form persons in line with what capitalism required of them.  These lectures will demonstrate the capacity of Christian beliefs and practices to help people resist the dictates of capitalism in its present, finance-dominated configuration.

Lecture 1: Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism: An Introduction

This lecture will discuss the Weberian approach to the influence of Christian beliefs and practices on economic behaviour, and ties it to the sort of comparison of ‘spiritualities’ offered by the French philosopher Michel Foucault in his Collège de France lectures.  The lecture will explore the general characteristics of finance-dominated capitalism and its culture, and it will outline the basic shape of the larger argument of the series, concerning the potential for Christianity to counteract contemporary capitalist modes of control.

Lecture 2: Chained to the Past

This lecture will consider the way in which persons, as both workers and debtors, are encouraged to relate to past decisions that constrain present action within finance-dominated capitalism.  The presumed inevitability of this way of relating to the past is undercut by appealing to Christian forms of self-repudiation in conversion and to the ruptured narratives that go along with them.

Lecture 3: Total Commitment

This lecture will explore the strategies used in finance-dominated capitalism to ensure worker compliance with company demands.  It will contrast these strategies, point by point, with the way in which a person’s commitment to God is related to the person’s more mundane commitments.

Lecture 4: Nothing but the Present

This lecture will investigate the causes and consequences of a preoccupation with the present in the lives of both workers and the indebted poor, and of the short-term time horizons that are characteristic of finance-dominated capitalism.  It will lay out the different reasons for Christian attention to an urgent present, along with the different effects of the Christian understanding of the present.

Lecture 5: Another World?

This lecture will explore how present and future are collapsed in the evaluation of assets on secondary financial markets, and the way efforts are made, by way of derivatives and other tactics typical of finance-dominated capitalism, to limit the potentially disturbing character of an unpredictable future.  The lecture will seek to establish how Christianity, to the contrary, allows for a future that, while very different from the present, does not simply compensate for the present’s failings.

Lecture 6: Which World?

This lecture will discuss how finance-dominated capitalism encourages one to relate to oneself, which in turn has a bearing on the understanding of one’s relations with others.  It will consider the emphasis on individual performance and responsibility in finance-dominated capitalism, the specific forms of competition typical of wage relations and market dynamics, winner-take-all profit mechanisms and herd behaviour in financial markets, privatising tendencies in the provision of public goods and the shifting of risks onto vulnerable individuals.  It will contrast these emphases with the general ways that Christianity links one’s relationship with oneself to one’s relations with others. 


Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism

Yale University Press

1 – Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism

Prof. Kathryn Tanner – Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism

2 – Chained to the Past

Prof. Kathryn Tanner – Chained to the Past

3 – Total Commitment

Prof. Kathryn Tanner - Total Commitment

4 – Nothing but the Present

Prof. Kathryn Tanner - Nothing but the Present

5 - Another World?

Prof. Kathryn Tanner - Another World?

6 - Which World?

Prof. Kathryn Tanner - Which World?

  • University of Edinburgh