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Economic Theology: Markets & Marketisation

    Stefan Schwarzkopf – March 9th – 10:00 GMT


    Contemporary ideas about society have a profound and lengthy history – connected in a genealogy to theological ideas. For instance, the market is often considered as a space of choice which reveals true value, outside of the control of the state as the inheritor of sovereignty. Equally, modern governance inherits pastoral power, charged with knowing the population and transforming the individual. In these linked lectures, two leading scholars of the turn towards ‘economic theology’ outline some of the surprising and contradictory historical threads that shape our contemporary predicament and ways of thinking.

    In this seminar, we will ask how ’the’ market came to be envisaged as a social space that cannot be fully known and anticipated, as a mysterium tremendum et fascinans. Applying the Foucaultian methodology of the archeology of ideas, dispositions and social technologies, we will – paradoxically – start with Foucault’s own notion of the market as a ’free port’, a space free from political interventions and the all-seeing eye of the sovereign. Tracing this notion backwards, we do not only find it in the writings of the liberal thinkers associated with the Mont Pelerin Society and the 1938 Colloque Walter Lippmann, but also much earlier in the writings of early nineteenth-century Anglican theologians who taught on matters economic. A deeper reading of these Anglican authors reveals that their crucial separation of economics from theology was based on notions of ’market mechanisms’ and ’market forces’, which earlier theologians such as Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas and Ibn Taimiyyah equally entertained. In the dicussion part that follows after my short presentation, we might ask what this theological tracing exercise might mean for our reading of Michel Foucault, and for economic theology as a paradigm and analytical strategy.

    Stefan’s presentation is based on the recently edited Routledge Handbook of Economic Theology. Stefan is Associate Professor at the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. His research focuses on the economic sociology of markets and innovation, and he has written widely about market technologies, consumption, and about the market research industry. Some of his latest work deals with the ascetic-sectarian nature of the new data and electronic surveillance industries.


    Each seminar was recorded and featured one or more readings, please find these below.

    Click here to view the recording.

    Yesterday (March 9th) we were treated to a talk on economic theology which served as an introduction of sorts for a follow-up talk later this week.

    Stefan Schwarzkopf is an associate professor in the department of management, politics, and philosophy at Copenhagen Business School.

    Stefan opened his discussion by pointing out how trivial it is today to say that markets are a stand in for god, or that money is revered in the manner that god once was, or that we worship shopping in a deeply religious fashion. Stefan wanted to be clear from the outset: this is not what he means by economic theology – to simply take economic constructs which are not normally thought of as being theological and then label them so.

    Instead – Stefan argued the opposite was the case. By going back to the 17th and 18th centuries when markets (as we know them) became established, and then entrenched, Stefan illustrated how markets were denatured of their theological content by theologians. This was a deliberate move to preserve those elements of society which were seen as sacred and in need of theological analyses. It was very important for markets to be seen as complex – but ultimately the creation of humans. This has left a considerable gap, or space for people to impute their own interpretations on what a market is. Markets would not regain their status as divine or fundamentally unknowable in a popular sense until the neo-liberals of the 20th century began their work.

    For anyone interested in the field of economic theology, we recommend the Routledge Handbook on this very same subject. It is an edited handbook containing 40 different aspects of economic theology, stretching from guilt and shame, to debt and credit, and still further to time, confession, entrepreneurship, and the invisible hand. But as in this article, the purpose of the handbook is not to play the trick of casually revealing the secretly theological character of these phenomena. Rather, it is a deep and meditative text that encourages us to see the world as incompletely secularized, and to open our eyes to the continuing influence of theology on our society and actions.

    Previous seminar: Elizabeth Anderson – The Great Reversal.

    Next seminar: Mitchell Dean – Economic Theology and Governance.

    We would like to express our gratitude to the European Union for funding this event.

    The Economy and Society Digital Summer School 2021

    DateTime (GMT)Event / TopicSpeakersRecording Link
    --Main Archive Page--Full Playlist
    February 23rd16:00Ideas Lying AroundNidesh Lawtoo & Lynne LaytonLink
    March 4th16:00The Great ReversalElizabeth AndersonLink
    March 9th10:00Economy Theology and MarketisationStefan SchwarzkopfLink
    March 11th10:00Economic Theology and GovernanceMitchell DeanLink
    March 16th16:00Jobseeking & the Labour MarketIlana GershonLink
    March 23rd 10:00The Reformation of WelfareRay Griffin & Tom Boland Link
    March 25th10:00Justifying WelfareMagnus P. Hansen., Fiona Dukelow, Michael McgannLink
    April 13th10:00Precarity and Precarious WorkTheresa O'Keefe, Aline Courtois & Teresa CrewLink
    April 15th16:00The Datafication of WelfareLina Dencik & Ray Griffin & HecatLink
    April 20th16:00Street-Level WelfareEvelyn Brodkin, Mary Murphy, Joe Whelan
    April 22nd10:00Fairground CapitalismArpad SzakolczaiLink
    April 27th10:00Work & The Gig EconomyAlex WoodLink
    April 29th10:00Rationalities and Moral Economies in Illicit Drug MarketsAngus BancroftLink
    May 6th10:00Good Models and Positive MimesisKieran KeohaneLink
    May 10th/11th 20:00/10:00The Leviathan of RationalityDamian O'DohertyLink