Religion, Profit, and Expansion

Christina Johnson

The scholarship relating to religion, profit, and expansion starts with the publication of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which highlights the Protestant Work Ethic’s responsibility for the rise of modern capitalism and decline of religious influence.  Following the publication of this influential work, scholars, whether in support or refutation of Weber, have written about religion, profit, and expansion in reflection of Weber’s thesis.  Parts of Weber’s arguments have been debated and disproven over time while others have been celebrated or subject to reexamination for their positive merits.  Perry Miller used Weber to introduce the concept of declension to explain the decline of Puritan influence in the seventeenth century.  Miller’s use of declension is debated as heavily in the scholarship as the Protestant Work Ethic.  This debate does not take a linear trajectory through time.  Rather, scholars that support or disagree with Miller’s arguments come forth with new arguments or challenges as time and circumstance progress.  The economic involvement of Catholics and Jews is also an important facet of the scholarship.  Work in these fields show that Catholic work of missionaries and involvement in imperial expansion included profit motives.  Jewish trade networks throughout the Atlantic world contributed to cross-cultural and international trade that would eventually lead to the rise of modern capitalism as well.  The necessary inclusion of Catholic and Jewish involvement in profit and expansion further challenge Weber’s assertions that the work ethic for profit was exclusive to Protestants.

Protestant Profit and Expansion into the New World

Robert Ekelund, Robert Hebert, Robert Tollison, The Marketplace of Christianity (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006).

Ekelund, Hebert, and Tollison use the tools of economic theory to explain the rise and expansion of Protestantism during the Reformation.  Placing Catholicism and Protestantism within the context of a competitive market, Christianity evolved to better satisfy the needs of their “consumers,” or worshipers.  The Protestant Reformation penetrated the marketplace previously dominated by the monopoly of the Catholic Church, which offered an additional option in which worshipers could invest.  The Catholic Counter-Reformation can be seen as an effort to improve its ability to compete with a new rival product.  During this time, Protestant countries enjoyed more economic growth than their Catholic counterparts.

Katherine Carte Engel, Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).

Engel focuses on the economic and spiritual journey of the Moravian religious group and primarily its establishment in Bethlehem, PA.  Engel argues that the Moravians created a transatlantic network that relied on both spiritual and economic connections.  In Bethlehem, the Moravian’s establishment of the Oeconomy was able to sustain their local and abroad missionary efforts and fund the church.  Engel not only denies the notion that economic and spirituality are in competing opposition, but asserts that one must look at religion and the economy together to better reflect the world in which the Moravians and other religious groups operated.

A.G. Roeber, Palatines, Liberty, and Property: German Lutherans in Colonial British America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).

Roeber delivers a social and cultural history of the immigration of Germans into the British colonies before the Revolution.  These immigrants, the majority of whom were German Lutherans, adjusted their cultural concepts of liberty and property to better fit those held by the British colonists.  By doing this, German immigrants in the colonies became politically, socially, and economically involved, and eventually participated in the Revolution as Patriots.

Frederick Barnes Tolles, Meeting House and Counting House: The Quaker Merchants of Colonial Philadelphia 1682-1763 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1948).

Tolles examines the Quaker economic work ethic in eighteenth-century Pennsylvania, and the tensions created by the conflict between of religious practices and economic success.  Tolles argues that Weber’s Protestant Ethic is essential to understanding how Quakers became economically successful, built a prosperous society in Pennsylvania, and how these successes eventually caused tensions that would eventually lead to the Quakers retiring from government and business to re-examine the foundations of their faith.

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism trans. Talcott Parsons, 1930.

Weber’s book argues that the Protestant Work Ethic inspired Protestants around the Atlantic to pursue personal wealth, which eventually led to the rise of modern capitalism.  Protestants developed the notion that working diligently was a way to honor God, and economic success was in turn a sign of God’s favor.  As the Protestant Work Ethic contributed to increasing economic success and the rise of capitalism, the church was no longer the most powerful institution people abided by and this signaled a loss of church influence over society.

Louis Wright, Religion and Empire: The Alliance Between Piety and Commerce in English Expansion, 1558-1625 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1943).

Depicting them as traveling chroniclers and propagandists, Wright argues that the clergy played a substantial role in cultivating the expansion and success of the British Empire.  The clergy and British Crown allied piety and commerce to promote expansion, proving that colonizers did not exclusively act out of desires for profit and power.  The presence of ritual practices and clergy onboard British ships, the need to establish areas of wealth to compete with Catholic rivals, and the missionary efforts to convert Native populations to the true faith show how religion, commercial gain, and patriotism joined forces to promote the expansion of the British Empire.

Slave Societies

Nicholas Beasley, Christian Ritual and the Creation of British Slave Societies, 1650-1780 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009).

Beasley gives an account of the changes Christian liturgy underwent in the colonial South and British Caribbean.  The growth of the slave population in these areas caused a racial demographic shift which created cultural anxieties among the now minority white population.  In order to account for this shift, Beasley argues that the white population modified Protestant ritual practice in order to reinforce English cultural identity.  Religious practices took on new meanings as sacraments became culturally accommodated and exclusive to the slave cultures.

Allan Gallay, “The Origins of Slaveholders’ Paternalism: George Whitefield, the Bryan Family, and the Great Awakening in the South,” The Journal of Southern History Vol. 53, No. 3 (Aug., 1987).

Gallay examines the actions of George Whitefield during the First Great Awakening, to draw connections to the notions of paternalism that slave owners adopted during the antebellum period.  Whitefield warned of spiritual degeneracy if the cruel practices of slaveholding were not changed.  Whitefield’s call to reform the institution of slavery inspired the Bryan family and other slaveholders of Georgia and South Carolina to change their practices.  By looking at how these affected slaveholders modified their practices, one can see how later antebellum slaveholders practiced an evolved form of paternalist ethos.

Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Providence Island 1630-1641: The Other Puritan Colony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

Providence Island is a comparative study of the Massachusetts Bay and Providence Island colonies in the seventeenth century.  Kupperman compares the organization and development of each colony to explain why Providence Island failed in 1641 while the Massachusetts Bay Colony prevailed.  While Massachusetts Bay focused on building towns, and establishing colonists’ control over taxation and private property, Providence Island built an agricultural economy off slave labor.  Kupperman also focuses on the religious foundation of each colony, explaining that those on Providence Island saw clerical power and church control as problematic, and broke with the Massachusetts Bay model by establishing a colony that would value toleration of religious views and practices.  This toleration, however, Kupperman argues was one of many contributing factors to Providence Island’s failure.

Puritan New England and Declension

Bernard Bailyn, The New England Merchants in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979).

Bailyn looks at the evolution of the merchant class and argues for their unique role in society in colonial New England.  The evolution of merchant interests moved them from being a heterogeneous collection of individuals spanning various social categories to a crystalized group with power and dominance.  Bailyn also shows how their lives as businessmen influenced their social and political concerns.

Louise Breen, Transgressing the Bounds: Subversive Enterprises Among the Puritan Elite in Massachusetts, 1630-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Breen looks closely at elite men in the seventeenth-century Massachusetts Bay Colony.  These men included merchants, frontier traders, and soldiers who all used their worldly connections to accumulate personal wealth.  Breen argues that as a result of their personal ambitions and engagement in the Atlantic economy, these men opposed the Puritan religious order.  Breen maintains that all people engaged in business outside the geographical limits of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were subversive to the Puritan stance against accumulating wealth.  Breen also argues that the Puritan elite became more subversive as most of these men identified with the thoughts of antinomianism, which affirmed that God’s salvation came not from human work, but from God’s grace.

Richard Bushman, From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967).

Bushman discusses on the disruption of the Puritan order by focusing on the emergence of economic opportunity in seventeenth-century Connecticut.  Taking the lead from the neighboring Massachusetts Bay Colony, Connecticut also promoted Puritan religious uniformity and orthodoxy.  The rise of economic activity and trade created new social divisions that disrupted the Puritan social order.  Bushman highlights the combination of economic opportunity and the Great Awakening as the most important events in disintegrating the Puritan social order.

Christine Heyrman, Commerce and Culture: The Maritime Communities of Colonial Massachusetts 1690-1750 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1984).

Heyrman focuses her study on the two towns of Gloucester and Marblehead, MA to assert that the rise of commerce and economic opportunity did not contribute to the decline of the Puritan community.  Heyrman concludes that economic development actually allowed these towns to better solidify their traditional standards of Puritan order.  Without connecting with the commercial economy of the Atlantic, these towns would have remained unstable due to the social issues and concerns they experienced, and would have perhaps moved into declension.

Stephen Innes, Creating the Commonwealth: The Economic Culture of Puritan New England (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995).

Innes argues that upon arrival to the colonies, Puritans immediately employed a recipe of a capitalist state for the Massachusetts Bay Colony that would eventually lead to the undoing of the Puritan church.  Colonists linked capitalist success to righteous success by making their labor and enterprises work that glorified God, and built a society based off of moral capitalism.  The New England clergy often criticized this society, citing that economic success would eventually lead to spiritual failure.  But the forces of the political economy, public policy, and social mobility divorced the Protestant Ethic from its religious connections and gave rise to the spirit of capitalism.

John Frederick Martin, Profits in the Wilderness: Entrepreneurship and the Founding of New England Towns in the Seventeenth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991).

Martin looks at colonists’ effort to found frontier New England towns to explain that the existence of traditional Puritan piety and economic competition coexisted.  Martin examines the methods land corporations developed in order to build frontier towns in New England.  Although these towns were founded for profit and expansion, these land corporations embodied the Puritan spirit of communalism through order, consensus and cooperation.  Meanwhile these corporations distributed rights to their residences not in reflection of Puritan communalism, but according to business principles.  Town residents did not necessarily enjoy the rights of land ownership or the ability to vote, showing that the ethics of communalism and inequality existed at the same time in different ways for certain New Englanders.

Perry Miller, New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1953).

Miller’s work explores the history and evolution of Puritan doctrine and thought during the seventeenth century.  Basing his analysis off Weber’s model of the Protestant Work Ethic and the rise of capitalism, Miller introduces the idea of Puritan declension happening as a result of colonists’ pursuit of wealth.  While considered sins of worldliness and signs of spiritual decline by the Puritan church, the rise of commercial success and capitalism created a tension within the colonies that eventually led to the decline of the Puritan Church.

Mark Peterson, The Price of Redemption: The Spiritual Economy of Puritan New England (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997).

Peterson takes a different approach to looking at the Great Awakening and its successful economic impact on Puritan society.  Rather than arguing these events led to its decline, Peterson affirms that they contributed to Puritanism’s success in New England.  Peterson uses two parishes in Massachusetts to put his point into context.  Economically successful Puritans of the Third Society of Boston used their wealth to support their religion by promoting Puritanism through publishing, charity, and paying for minister and teacher expenses.  The First Society of Westfield uniquely did not have to struggle to maintain their traditional religious intensity with the rise of economic opportunity.  Peterson argues that The Great Awakening and the changes it brought should not be looked at as a sign of ecclesiastical fragmentation, but as an indicator that Puritans made purposeful efforts to include as many worshipers as possible to strengthen the church.

Mark Valeri, Heavenly Merchandize: How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).

Valeri looks at the ways religion shaped commercial practice in eighteenth-century New England.  He discusses a transition from the marketplace being a venue of tension with Puritanism in the seventeenth century to a venue of virtue in the eighteenth century.  Valeri uses the lives of Bostonian merchants to illustrate this transition.  These merchants who were once at odds with ministers of the Puritan church based on their zeal for economic endeavors eventually became viewed as a positive good for the growth of society.  Merchants were not conflicted as they saw themselves as both prosperous and pious.  Through this transition, Valeri argues that Puritanism may have changed in its views with the rise of commerce, yet it did completely yield control and influence.

Catholic Economic Influence

Dauril Alden, The Making of an Enterprise, The Society of Jesus in Portugal, Its Empire, and Beyond, 1540-1750 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996).

Alden gives a detailed history of the Society of Jesus’ Portuguese Assistancy and its participation in Portugal’s imperial expansion.  Alden covers the early history of the Jesuits, its organization, personnel, and goals.  He also provides financial information pertaining to its expanses in Africa, South America, and Asia.  Alden argues that the Society of Jesus played a special role within the Portuguese empire with Jesuits serving as missionaries, advisors, and key players in the world economy.  Although Jesuits had a role in commerce, Alden asserts that their purpose for involvement pertained to support and subsistence of their international religious and educational efforts rather than for profit.

Kathryn Burns, Colonial Habits: Convents and the Spiritual Economy of Cuzco, Peru (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999).

Focusing on a few nunneries in Cuzco, Peru, Burns explains how these nunneries served as financial centers while concurrently helping to promote Andean colonial order.  Burns uses the phrase “spiritual economy” to explain the spiritual and economic exchanges these nunneries made with their surrounding world.  These nunneries made loans and managed property to become economic leaders and actively reproduced and projected European cultural values on colonial society.

Asuncion Lavrin, “The Role of the Nunneries in the Economy of New Spain in the Eighteenth Century,” The Hispanic American Historical Review Vol.46, No.4 (Nov., 1966).

Lavrin gives a broad scope of nunneries and the political involvement in colonial New Spain.  She uses the accounts of several convents to outline the financial organization of convents and their economic influence on their greater communities.  Acting as lenders and landowners, convents became large influential financial centers.

Steven Hackel, Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769-1850 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005).

Children of Coyote explores the complex relationship of power, labor, and religion between missionaries and Indians in missions in Alta California.  After the “duel revolutions” of disease leading to population decline and ecological changes leading to the collapse of the hunter-gather economy, Indians traveled to missions for survival.  Once there, missionaries organized Indian labor to promote agricultural production, but not without Indians using their power to maintain certain aspects of their traditional and tribal life.

Jewish Diaspora and Market Participation

Richard Kagan and Philip Morgan eds. Atlantic Diasporas: Jews, Conversos, and Crypto-Jews in the age of Mercantilism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).

This collection of essays focuses on the various changing roles of Jews in the Atlantic world by covering various places, time periods and subject matters.  As a collective, these essays show that Jewish trade networks had the ability to transcend borders to create cross-cultural and political connections.  The compilation of essays offers a contextual overview of Jews in the Atlantic world, their involvement in mercantilist trade networks, and Jewish religious and cultural identity.

Werner Sombart, The Jews and Modern Capitalism (Leipzig: Duncker und Humblot, 1911).

Sombart directly responds to Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic thesis by suggesting that Jews played an important role in the development of capitalism.  Although many of his arguments that Jewish involvement in capitalism comes from inherent characteristics and tendencies might be viewed as outdated and stereotypical, Sombart’s early work opened the door to discuss other groups’ involvement in the foundations of capitalism, not just Protestants.

Daniel Swetschinski, Reluctant Cosmopolitans: The Portuguese Jews of Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam (London; Portland: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2000).

Swetschinski depicts the life of Amsterdam’s Portuguese Jews in the seventeenth century.  Focusing more on their social history, Swetschinski shows how this migrant group of conversos transitioned to form a community and return to practicing Judaism in a new environment.  Through his study, Swetschinski highlights the relatively smooth transition this group made in establishing a new Jewish community in Amsterdam, and that the dissention that occurred was minor and secondary in comparison to other Jewish enclaves in a growing capitalistic world.

Francesca Trivellato, The Familiarity of Strangers: The Sephardic Diaspora, Livorno, and Cross-Cultural Trade in the Early Modern Atlantic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).

Trivellato delivers a specialized study of Jewish cross-cultural trade and interaction to focus on the Italian port city of Livorno.  Livorno provided cross-cultural interactions through its trade and growing Jewish population.  Trivellato argues the Jewish trading networks did not operate solely on kinship ties.  Cross-cultural trading networks also existed and were based off reputation and performance instead of religious and cultural solidarity.

Gedalia Yogev, Diamonds and Coral: Anglo-Dutch Jews and Eighteenth-Century Trade (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1978).

Yogev analyses the nature of Anglo-Jewish practices in the 18th century.  Jews took specialized roles in the Atlantic trade by doing business in primarily precious metals, diamonds, and coral, in the Anglo-Indian trade, and of manufactured goods and agricultural products in the Iberian trade.  While arguing that Jews played a significant role in these trading markets, Yogev clarifies that European countries were already on their way to becoming commercial powers in the Atlantic trade.  Therefore, Jews only played a fractional role as pioneers of modern capitalist development.

Natalie Zacek, “‘A People So Subtle’: Sephardic Jewish Pioneers of the English West Indies” In Bridging the Early Modern Atlantic World: People, Products, and Practices on the Move ed. Caroline A. Williams (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009).

Zacek depicts the rise of Sephardic Jews in trade in Britain’s seventeenth-century West Indian colonies.  After leaving Dutch Brazil, these Jews established a community on the island of Nevis and used their international at cross-cultural networks to establish strong trade and relationships.  These networks often led to Jewish bonds and friendship to prominent Christian families.

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