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.
- Read Neoliberal Religion: Faith and Power in the Twenty-First Century, by Mathew Guest.
- Read “Religion and Economic Growth” from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
- Read Islamic Finance: Principles and Practice, by Hans Visser.
- Read Buying Buddha, Selling Rumi: Orientalism and the Mystical Marketplace, by Sophia Rose Arjana.
- Read “Economic Growth Slowed by Decline in Religious Freedom,” from the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation.
- Read Judaism in Transition: How Economic Choices Shape Religious Tradition, by Carmel U. Chiswick.
- Read “How Religion Shaped Modern Economics” from The Wall Street Journal.
- Read “Buddhist economics: oxymoron or idea whose time has come?” from the University of California Berkeley News.
- Read “Venture capitalists bullish on religious apps” from Baylor University’s Religion Watch (Vol. 37, no. 2).
Lessons learned from the Great Recession:
- Read “Recession, Religion, and Happiness, 2006–2010,” by Michael Hout and Orestes P. Hastings.
- Read “Is a Bad Economy Good for Church Attendance?” from Pew Research Center.
- Read “Does Religious Affiliation Protect People’s Well-Being? Evidence from the Great Recession after Correcting for Selection Effects,” by Christos A. Makridis, Byron Johnson and Harold G. Koenig.
- Read “Recession takes toll on religious groups” from NBC News on Sept. 28, 2009.
- Read “Can religion help us through the slump?” from The Guardian on Dec. 1, 2008.
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.
- Read “‘We don’t go by money’: Gas station owner lowers prices to help customers,” from NBC News on June 17, 2022.
- Read “India & Hindu Nationalism: What Is the Economic Cost of Marginalising Muslims?” from The Quint on June 14, 2022 (Op-ed).
- Read “The ESG potential of Islamic finance” from Thomson Reuters on June 14, 2022 (Op-ed)
- Read “Goldman Sachs Hires SocGen Banker for Islamic Finance in Dubai” from Bloomberg on June 8, 2022.
- Read “SoulCycle’s Peoplehood offers a gig-economy cure for loneliness,” from Religion News Service on June 4, 2022 (Op-ed).
- Read “Author Proposes New Religion Based on Economic Policy and Modern Religious Values” from PR Web on May 31, 2022 (press release).
- Read “The religious economy: $40 billion and growing” from The Pioneer on May 23, 2022 (Op-ed).
- Read “BJP targeting religious places to divert people’s attention from issues like unemployment, inflation: Mayawati” from Times of India on May 18, 2022.
- Read “‘The war has seriously crippled us’: In Ukraine, Jewish business owners persist,” from the Forward on May 13, 2022.
- Read “Sri Lanka: Buddhist Monks Join Galle Face Anti-govt Protest Amid Worsening Economic Crisis” from Republic World on May 8, 2022.
- Read “Ramadan Just Ended. Its High Economic Price Is Here to Stay” from Haaretz on May 2, 2022.
- Watch “The Fed’s starting to ‘get religion’ on inflation: Glazer” from Fox News on April 29, 2022.
- Read “How India’s coastal Muslims helped it become wealthy, successful economy in medieval era” from The Print on April 21, 2022 (Analysis).
- Read “Brazil eyes $1.17 trillion halal food market, keen to boost its share in trade” from Reuters on Dec. 6, 2021.
- Read “Economics for Church Leaders: Understanding Inflation” from The Gospel Coalition on Oct. 20, 2021 (Op-ed).
- Read “Scandal-plagued Catholic order denies hiding millions in offshore accounts” from Religion News Service on Oct. 12, 2021.
- Read “This is how Muslim entrepreneurs are tapping into the $2 trillion halal economy,” from The Business Insider on Aug. 9, 2021.
- Read “Church buys and cancels medical debt of families in New Mexico and Arizona” from Yahoo! on July 12, 2021.
- Read “Indonesia’s ‘born-again’ Muslims quit banks for Islamic finance,” from Al Jazeera on June 21, 2021.
- Read “The pandemic has slowed tourism to Thailand’s Buddhist temples, but the impact is more than economic” from Religion News Service on June 5, 2021.
- Read “God cares a lot about money, say faith finance groups, and maybe you should too,” from Religion News Service on Feb. 9, 2021.
- Read “Is Dave Ramsey’s empire the ‘best place to work in America’? Say no and you’re out” from Religion News Service on Jan. 15, 2021.
- Read “36 Years On, Economic Status of Anti-Sikh Riot Survivors Remains Deplorable, Says Minorities Commission Report” from News 18 on July 18, 2020.
- Read “How US Churches Cover Millions in Medical Debt” from Christianity Today on Aug. 19, 2019.
- Read “The preachers getting rich from poor Americans,” from BBC News on May 29, 2019.
- Listen “Sikhs contribute $8.1 billion annually to the Australian economy: report” from SBS Punjabi on April 20, 2019.
- Read “Religious-based financial fraud is rampant. Here’s how to fight it,” from CNBC News on Sept. 7, 2018.
- Read “How economics became a religion” from The Guardian on July 11, 2017.
- Read “Atheism linked to economic innovation, productivity” from Pacific Standard on June 14, 2017.
- Read “Religion may be bigger business than we thought. Here’s why” from the World Economic Forum on Jan. 5, 2017 (Analysis).
Potential experts and sources
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 is professor of economics at George Washington University. Her research focuses on economic development and growth, economic history and economics of religion.
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 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 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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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 is professor of economics at Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas. He co-hosts the “Faith & Economics” podcast, which explores Christian teachings on economic issues.
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.
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 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.”