Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism


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Kathryn Tanner

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One of the world’s most celebrated theologians argues for a Protestant anti-work ethic

In his classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber famously showed how Christian beliefs and practices could shape persons in line with capitalism. In this significant reimagining of Weber’s work, Kathryn Tanner provocatively reverses this thesis, arguing that Christianity can offer a direct challenge to the largely uncontested growth of capitalism.
Exploring the cultural forms typical of the current finance-dominated system of capitalism, Tanner shows how they can be countered by Christian beliefs and practices with a comparable person-shaping capacity. Addressing head-on the issues of economic inequality, structural under- and unemployment, and capitalism’s unstable boom/bust cycles, she draws deeply on the theological resources within Christianity to imagine anew a world of human flourishing. This book promises to be one of the most important theological books in recent years.

Kathryn Tanner is Frederick Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School. She is the author of Christ the Key and Economy of Grace, among other books.

“In this book, Kathryn Tanner exposes the vacuity of current capitalist mythologies and offers an alternative way of imagining human well-being, grounded in a sophisticated and provocative theological vision. A hugely important essay in strengthening resistance to the subtle tyrannies of financial fundamentalism.”—Rowan Williams, Cambridge

“Kathryn Tanner is a distinguished Christian theologian of the highest order whose prophetic critique of financial capitalism is powerful and persuasive. She moves through Max Weber’s classic book, then subtly turns his work on its head with a great relevance to our present moment.”—Cornel West

“Once again, Kathryn Tanner has reshaped the field. Her 'Protestant anti-work ethic' shows the deep incompatibility between basic Christian beliefs and contemporary capitalism in a way that is at once fresh, clear, and utterly compelling.”—Ian A. McFarland, University of Cambridge

“With her usual precision and clarity, Kathryn Tanner shows how we have a choice today between equally worn paths: we can live a life defined by a 'spirit of capitalism' or one in conformity with the God of Jesus Christ. Her book suggests the way to a better future.”— Kelly Brown Douglas, Union Theological Seminary

“In our time, capitalism is dominated by the financial sector, repels nearly all encroachments on its sovereignty and reach, and impels us toward eco-catastrophe. Kathryn Tanner makes a wonderfully astute, learned, and compelling case that Christian theology has something important to say about this situation.”—Gary Dorrien, author of Social Democracy in the Making

“Capitalism believes it accounts for everything – but Tanner brilliantly demonstrates how Christianity’s grammar both exceeds and chastens the story capitalism relentlessly tells.”—Lauren F. Winner, author of The Dangers of Christian Practice

“A stunning reworking of the financial metaphors that have become a standard feature of Western theology.”—Amy Plantinga Pauw, Christian Century

“[A] sophisticated and carefully aimed treatise”—Eric Miller, Christianity Today

"Challenges readers to enter a new world not determined by the reductionistic, neoliberal, and neoclassical thinking of contemporary markets, laborious production, and profit-making schemes. . . . Readers are instead encouraged to turn many of these basic premises upside down and thereby set aside idolatries they didn’t know they had."—Jamin A. Hübner, Reading Religion

“Tanner shows how Christian visions of human life challenge the distorted relations produced by finance capitalism . . . Tanner’s text is insightful and needed in this moment . . . a gift, It will be read for years to come.”—Keri Day, Christian Century

“A formidable book . . . worth grappling with.”—Meghan J. Clark, Commonweal 

“[T]his is an excellent addition to the discussion of how Christian faith relates to economic matter. Theologians, ethicists, clergy and educated lay people will all benefit from reading it.”—Donald Schweitzer, Critical Theology

"[A] challenging and insightful book. . . . A carefully crafted tale of a world not governed by the reductionist and ultimately inhuman language of exchange markets, profit-driven schemes, and the constant commodification of human labor. . . . Give(s) voice to certain time-tested Christian truths that can provide a locus of critical resistance against the seemingly unstoppable forces of free market capitalism."—Rubén Rosario Rodríguez, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Winner of the 2020 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of Constructive-Reflective Studies, sponsored by The American Academy of Religion.
ISBN: 9780300258493
Publication Date: June 29, 2021
256 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4