Religion and Economy at the AAR

Daniel Vaca

At next weekend's annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Atlanta (Nov. 21-24), we will be convening a session entitled "Spirits of Capitalism: Exploring Religion and Economy." The panel will consider issues that this blog's contributors regularly write about, and it will feature scholars familiar to this blog's readers (including Pamela Klassen and Kathryn Lofton). But I bring the panel your attention because it is not an ordinary panel; it is an "exploratory session" for a proposed AAR program unit entitled "Religion and Economy." Both the panel and the proposed unit seek to promote interdisciplinary conversations among scholars whose work conjoins concepts of religion, economy, and economics. And there are at least two ways that I'm hoping you might help us begin this initiative.

First, we need your support. We not only would value your presence at the panel itself (Sunday, Nov. 22, 5-6.30pm) but also would be grateful for your support of our program unit proposal. The AAR requests brief letters of support from members who endorse the proposed unit's potential work. Letters should be sent directly to, by December 1.

If you already are planning on attending the AAR, and you have scanned the program, you might have noticed that a few program units have organized panels related in part to matters of economy. But this does not undermine the rationale for a new program unit; to the contrary, the modest proliferation of related panels at the past few annual meetings of the AAR both evidences interest and demonstrates the potential for more sustained conversations about the varied ways that systems of economy not only orient religious life but also take shape through fields of thought, activity, and resistance that the "religious" helps bring into view.

Second, we hope that you will consider participating, either by attending the exploratory panel or proposing submissions in response to future calls for papers. Our program unit would cultivate conversations that span religious traditions, historical time periods, and methodologies. By bringing together historians, anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, critical theorists, and textual scholars, we would aspire to identify and explore common concerns through conceptually broad but topically focused analysis. In addition to addressing questions that have proven central to the contemporary study of religion, these conversations would speak to pressing social problems.

If you have any questions about the panel or proposed program unit, please feel free to contact me ( or my co-organizer, Elayne Oliphant ( Information about next Sunday's panel follows.

Exploratory Sessions
Theme: Spirits of Capitalism: Exploring Religion and Economy
Sunday - 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Marriott-International 6 (International Level)

An exploratory panel for a program group on "Religion and Economy," this panel will explore the relationship between religion and economy through interdisciplinary conversation. While theorists including Marx, Weber, and Durkheim all pointed to the entanglement of religion and economy at the inception of the social scientific study of religion, this panel seeks not only to revive classic questions but also to advance current trends in the study of religion. Inviting scholars of religion to address how economies and economics limit, inform, and take shape through religious activity, this panel and proposed program group will identify common sites of inquiry through comparative analyses. Bringing together scholars trained in critical theory, anthropology, and historical modes of analysis, this panel will ask how religious ethics can inform and contest inequality, how economies operate as systems of value, and how religion serves as a mode of exchange and reproduction.

Daniel Vaca, Brown University, Presiding

Pamela Klassen, University of Toronto
George Gonzalez, Monmouth University
Elayne Oliphant, New York University

Kathryn Lofton, Yale University


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