Extended Deadline: The Business of Faith. Economic Reform and Social Change in the Age of Reformation

Extended Deadline: The Business of Faith. Economic Reform and Social Change in the Age of Reformation

Institut d´Histoire Université de Neuchâtel (Neuenburg)
Neuchâtel (Neuenburg)
Vom - Bis
29.06.2018 - 30.06.2018
Marion Deschamp

Luther's 95 theses against the sale of indulgences criticized not only the venality of Rome and its agents. The denunciation of the sale of salvation also put the whole economics of traditional faith in question. Luther offered to replace the mercantile vision of the afterlife with the notion of the gratuity of salvation, freely granted to men by God in memory of Christ's sacrifice. The lexical similarities between the words used to describe these two phenomena are significant: Luther's Reformation intended to transform two kinds of economic systems. In terms of theology, the economy of salvation was no longer based on purchase but was to rely instead on the principle of redemption being a free gift from God. In terms of finance, Lutheran Reformers likewise condemned the Church's economic system, that is to say the control and management of the institution's earthly assets.

It is therefore not surprising that the denunciation of the Church's financial excesses rapidly extended to other kinds of economic grievances. While in the early years of the Reformation, the Church was primarily blamed for its luxury and for having renounced the principle of charity, it did not take long for the Reformers to address also more general economic issues. Thus, Luther and many other Reformers such as Zwingli, Bucer or Calvin took a stance against usury, interest-bearing loans, commercial monopoly and capital accumulation, monetary shortage, debt collection, and practices of managing public relief for the poor. In a similar way, the instigators of the Catholic Reformation, whether they intended to maintain the traditional devotional economy or, on the contrary, push for a renewal of the economic system, endeavored to acknowledge the pecuniar realities of the time.

But did the new discourse on the economy of faith and its theoretical application to the economic affairs of the time lead to the emergence of specific economic practices, ethics and ways of life on either side of the confessional divide? In other words, is it possible to assess the actual impact of religious discourses and doctrines on economic behaviour on individuals, families, communities, town and entire states? We do not wish to argue for or against the validity of Max Weber's much-discussed theses regarding the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism within the meta-narrative of the origins of modern capitalism. Instead, by focusing on the seminal period of 16th and 17th centuries, we wish to avoid teleological narratives of change and reject any univocal genealogical link between modern capitalism and Protestantism which usually derive from an exclusive focus on Calvin's ethics of work and the Puritan implementation of the accumulation of wealth. This narrative tends to overlook the plurality of opinions coexisting within the world of Reformation and the inventions of different economical traditions. We believe that studying the diversity of the first generation of Reformers' positions on what they considered to be an ideal Christian economy - and the divergence of their points of view on how to restructure the management of business in conformity with one's faith - is far more revealing of the multiple economics experiences that result from the Reformation.

Recent research on the topic of the « economics of religion » (Rachel McCleary, Anne Koch) underlines the limits of an interpretative framework that attributes the emergence of a new economic ethos to Protestantism only. Besides, economic historians, over the past ten years, have emphasized the importance of the cultural, material and performative aspects of economic processes (Inga Klein, Sonja Windmüller, Hartmut Berghoff, Jacob Vogel), while an increasing number of economists (Thomas Piketty, Geoffroy Hodgson, Giacomo Corneo) and anthropologists (David Graeber) have stressed the need to locate macro-economic analyses within specific socio-historical contexts. In accordance with these recent lines of inquiry we would like to explore the connections between discourses and economic practices in the wake of the reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries. We would also like to stimulate interdisciplinary discussion between historians, theologians, anthropologists and economists on this subject.

We expect to touch upon the following themes:

- conditions surrounding the production of economic discourses at the time of the Reformation, such as the impact of the German Peasants' War on Luther's thought, Pirckheimer's defense of bankers in Nuremberg or the economic situation in Strasbourg at the time when Bucer drafted his De regno Christi...

- the socio-economic practices of communities of faith in the wake of the radical Reformation: the economic demands during the German Peasants' War, the internal economy of Anabaptist communities, the sharing of goods and the redistribution of capital...

- the financial and economic management of clerical institutions: the secularization and re-allocation of ecclesiastic possessions, the remuneration of clerics; the continuation of monastic economies and the emergence of new economic practices among counter-reformation clergy.

- religious conversions and economic reconversions: individual experiences of clerics who either converted or remained faithful to Rome but had to renounce their former privileges; the economic trajectories of former nuns and monks beyond the walls of the convent. On the Protestant side, particular attention could be paid to the role of the wives of reformers such as Katharina von Bora or Anna Bullinger, and the administration of their households.

- economic and financial public policies: debates in favour of or against the transformation of economic practices among secular authorities and their subsequent actions, such as the implementation of public credit, poor relief, etc.

Conference languages : English and French

Organizing committee
Dr. Marion Deschamp, marion.deschamp@unine.ch
Dr. Fabrice Flückiger, fabrice.flueckiger@unine.ch
Eléna Guillemard, M.A., elena.guillemard@unine.ch

Scientific Committee : Pr Olivier Christin (Neuchâtel), Pr Yves Krumenacker (Lyon), Pr Bernard Hours (Lyon)

Proposals (in english or french) must be submitted until 26 January
2018 in electronic form to one of the organizers mentioned above (max. 500 words).


Confirmed speakers : Mary Sprunger (EMU, Virginia); Mark Häberlein (Bamberg); Astrid von Schlachta (Regensburg); Naima Ghermani (Grenoble); Ariane Boltanski (Rennes), Andreas Pawlas (Kiel), Geneviève Gross (Fribourg), Boris Klein (Lyon)


Marion Deschamp

Institut d´Histoire- Université de Neuchâtel