Recession religion: Experts on the intersection of faith and finance

A closeup of a US hundred dollar bill (Benjamin Franklin side).

The stock market is down. Gas prices are up. Rents, food prices, and mortgage costs are spiking. Interest rates are continually on the rise. Crypto is crashing.

If that were not already enough, analysts fear rising inflation and the stock market’s bear market growl could signal global recession.

In the midst of economic turmoil, it might be tempting to flip past the religion page and turn straight to business, finance and market reports. But that would be to miss the many intersections between religion and the economy that will be relevant to these storylines in the months to come.

Here are just some of the stories you might discover: Buddhist monks protesting on Sri Lankan streets in the midst of unprecedented economic crisis. U.S. churches buying up medical debt to relieve the burden on low-income families. A Sikh gas station owner in Phoenix selling petrol at a discount. Financial experts considering Islamic finance as a potential strategic growth market in the midst of global upheaval.

And let’s not forget that according to a 2016 study, the so-called faith economy contributes around $1.2 trillion (USD) of socioeconomic value to the U.S. economy every single year. That is more than Google, Apple, Amazon combined!

As financial news continues to come hard and fast, portending potentially precarious times ahead, this edition of ReligionLink provides background, example stories and potential experts and resources to help you explore angles related to religion, the economy and global financial markets.

Background and related research

Even though the connections have often been overlooked, religion and economics have been deeply intertwined throughout history.

While contemporary understandings of religion imagine it as strictly separate from politics, economics and the wider worlds of business and finance, repeated financial disasters and developments, centuries of religious social thought and modern faith-based economic action challenge us to reexamine those connections.

From the “faith economy” to “neoliberal religion” and lessons learned from the Great Recession (2007-2009), the resources below offer background on how the structures of dominant economic systems influence religion, explore how religious actors and institutions  impact economics in turn, and shed light on whether relating religion and economics might be able to foster alternative economic and religious expressions.

Lessons learned from the Great Recession: 

Related stories

From the economic impacts of the war in Ukraine to the economic factors that determine Indian politics, from medical debt buy-ups in Arizona to the incentives of Islamic finance, the links below represent a wide range of stories newswriters have produced when covering religion and the economy across the globe.

Potential experts and sources

  • Jeanet Bentzen

    Jeanet Bentzen is associate professor in the department of economics at the University of Copenhagen. Bentzen’s research focuses on economic approaches to decision-making and culture and includes topics related to religion, institutions, economic growth, economic history and geographic confounders.

  • The Center for Poverty Research

    The Center for Poverty Research is at the University of Kentucky. James P. Ziliak, who holds the Gatton Endowed Chair in Microeconomics, is director. It published a newsletter, Insights on Southern Poverty.

  • Carmel Chiswick

    Carmel Chiswick is professor of economics at George Washington University. Her research focuses on economic development and growth, economic history and economics of religion.

  • William Enright

    William Enright is a Presbyterian pastor and director emeritus of the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at Indiana University. He can discuss the center’s report on religious giving and the recession.

  • Emma García

    Emma García is an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. She specializes in the economics of education and education policy and co-authored an opinion column, “Why homeschooling in pandemic has failed for many families,” published by USA Today in February 2021.

  • Fellowship of Companies for Christ International

    Fellowship of Companies for Christ International is a membership, marketplace ministry to Christian CEOs by Christian CEOs. The organization publishes resources designed to educate and equip Christian business leaders with the assets they need to promote their business and beliefs.

  • David Gelles

    David Gelles is the author of Mindful Work, which is about meditation in the business world. He is also a business reporter for The New York Times and mindfulness practitioner.

  • Brian Grim

    Brian J. Grim is president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, which makes the case that religious freedom is good for business. Formerly at Pew Research Center, Grim is a leading expert on the socioeconomic impact of restrictions on religious freedom and international religious demography.

  • Mathew J. Guest

    Mathew J. Guest is a sociologist of religion and head of the department of theology and religion at Durham University in the U.K. A pacifist and Quaker, he wrote the book Neoliberal Religion: Faith and Power in the 21st Century. 

     

     

  • Andrew Hafenbrack

    Andrew Hafenbrack is an assistant professor of business at the University of Washington in Seattle. He researches the effectiveness of workplace mindfulness programs.

  • International Business Ethics Institute

    The International Business Ethics Institute is a  private, nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational organization founded in 1994 in response to the growing need for transnationalism in the field of business ethics. It is based in Washington, D.C.

    Contact: 202-296-6938.
  • Sriya Iyer

    Sriya Iyer is a university reader in the faculty of economics and a fellow of St. Catharine’s College. Her research is in the fields of development economics, economics of religion, health and education. For the past decade, she has been contributing to developing a new field of research called the economics of religion, in which she uses economic methods to study religion.

  • Scott Kennedy

    Scott Kennedy is senior adviser and trustee chair in Chinese business and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The media contact is H. Andrew Schwartz.

  • Ashley LeBaron-Black

    Ashley LeBaron-Black is assistant professor at Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life. She has published her original research on how religious involvement can alleviate or exacerbate financial stress.

  • Art Lindsley

    The Rev. Art Lindsley is vice president of theological initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics. He researches religious teachings on economic systems, including Bible passages used to justify socialism, and was co-editor of Counting the Cost: Christian Perspectives on Capitalism and For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty.

  • Russ McCullough

    Russ McCullough is professor of economics at Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas. He co-hosts the “Faith & Economics” podcast, which explores Christian teachings on economic issues.

  • Marketplace Chaplains

    The Texas-based Marketplace Chaplains has provided businesses across the country with Christian chaplaincy services since 1984. It employs more than a thousand chaplains around the country.

  • National Federation of Independent Business

    The National Federation of Independent Business is an advocacy group based in Nashville, Tennessee, that represents the interests of small businesses. The federation opposes efforts to raise the minimum wage, saying such measures have ripple effects on the economy and can hurt entry-level workers. Email through the website.

    Contact: 800-634-2669.
  • Joerg Rieger

    Joerg Rieger is a professor of Wesleyan studies and theology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, as well as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. His areas of study include social justice, liberation theory, the relationship between theology and public life, and the misuse of power in religion, politics and economics.

  • Edham Reza Shah

    Edham Reza Shah is joint managing partner at Abdul Rahman and Partners in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He is a leading consultant and practitioner in banking and Islamic finance and takaful matters.

  • Mike Sharrow

    Mike Sharrow serves as president and CEO for the C12 Group — the nation’s largest network of Christian CEOs, business owners and executives. Prior to his role with the C12 Group, Sharrow worked in a variety of industry settings including Walgreens Health Initiatives, TQ Strategies, Health by Design and Grace Point Church.

  • Ben Witherington III

    Ben Witherington III is a professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. A prolific author and an ordained minister, Witherington can talk about the historical tensions between Christians and Jews and current cultural manifestations of those tensions. He is the author of Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis, an examination of “what Jesus has to say (and doesn’t say) concerning wealth and poverty, money and spending, debt and sacrificial giving.”

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