Heavenly Merchandize

Paul Harvey

Earlier we have blogged about Mark Valeri's Heavenly Merchandize: How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America. Below I'm reprinting a review from Choice on this book, which should interest a number of you. Below the review is a snip from the book's website, which has some more information on the contents.

Valeri, Mark
. Heavenly merchandize: how religion shaped commerce in Puritan America. Princeton, 2010. 337p index afp; ISBN 9780691143590, $35.00. Reviewed in 2010dec CHOICE.
Historians surveying the first century of Massachusetts Bay's settlement often describe how colonists in 1630 understood themselves as part of a gemeinschaft, or community based on personal relationships where commitment to the larger social good outweighed individual self-interest. By 1730, the gemeinshaft had become a gesellschaft, or society where rational self-interest trumped communal commitments; relationships, based on the impersonal forces of a market system, were more distant. Valeri (Union Theological Seminary/Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Virginia) avoids such oversimplification, but his exhaustively researched, densely structured book provides a marvelously thick description of just such a transition. Against the conventional assumption that commitment to market values came at the expense of religion, however, Valeri argues that religion actively fostered that commitment. Concentrating on Boston, he demonstrates how prominent preachers provided a vocabulary--drawn largely from British economic theorists--that allowed successful merchants to understand their pursuit of profit, and eventually even the trade in slaves, as a moral imperative. A "postpuritan religiosity" "preceded, and therefore helped to make possible, the full fruition of a market order in early America." Students of early New England will find this indispensable; it should also appeal to anyone interested in the relationship between religion and the larger culture. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers. -- L. B. Tipson Jr., Washington College
from the book's website):

Heavenly Merchandize offers a critical reexamination of religion's role in the creation of a market economy in early America. Focusing on the economic culture of New England, it views commerce through the eyes of four generations of Boston merchants, drawing upon their personal letters, diaries, business records, and sermon notes to reveal how merchants built a modern form of exchange out of profound transitions in the puritan understanding of discipline, providence, and the meaning of New England.

Mark Valeri traces the careers of men like Robert Keayne, a London immigrant punished by his church for aggressive business practices; John Hull, a silversmith-turned-trader who helped to establish commercial networks in the West Indies; and Hugh Hall, one of New England's first slave traders. He explores how Boston ministers reconstituted their moral languages over the course of a century, from a scriptural discourse against many market practices to a providential worldview that justified England's commercial hegemony and legitimated the market as a divine construct. Valeri moves beyond simplistic readings that reduce commercial activity to secular mind-sets, and refutes the popular notion of an inherent affinity between puritanism and capitalism. He shows how changing ideas about what it meant to be pious and puritan informed the business practices of Boston's merchants, who filled their private notebooks with meditations on scripture and the natural order, founded and led churches, and inscribed spiritual reflections in their letters and diaries.

Unprecedented in scope and rich with insights, Heavenly Merchandize illuminates the history behind the continuing American dilemma over morality and the marketplace.


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