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White-Collar Discipline and the Theology of Work
September 15, 2014 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Kingdon Fellow (2014-2015)
History and Women’s Studies, University of Georgia
The “revenge of God”—the broad failure of the secularization thesis after World War II—is in part the story of religious responses to the feminization of work; the commodification of reproductive labor; the restructuring of the household; and the growth of “occult economies” whether they involve witchcraft, Ponzi schemes, or mortgage-backed securities. Rather than a zero-sum showdown between “jihad and McWorld” theorists of alternative modernities suggest that we have been witnessing their recombination in unexpected ways. Emphasizing the apparent contradiction of liberal, secular economic policies embraced by orthodox adepts of demanding Catholic spiritual disciplines, for example, Chilean intellectual Arturo Fontaine Talavera has asked whether Latin America “will develop an alternative modernity that is morally conservative and family-oriented, but at the same time free and open in its economics.”
This research into a specific transnational combination of professional training, economic liberalism, and Catholic devotion seeks to understand how the labor of service—whether white-collar, pink-collar, or domestic—is consciously practiced as spiritual discipline and, in turn, how that spirituality has cultivated the virtues demanded by the postindustrial workplace and the social networks in which it is embedded, virtues like concentration, detail-orientation, self-discipline, and cheerful “people skills.” Given the extraordinary psychic demands of post-industrial labor, what kinds of spiritual practice have been effective for those coping with the high-tech, “high-touch” stretch-out in offices, hospitals, schools, and cyberspace? How have these practices articulated with a religious worldview that combines moral traditionalism and economic innovation?
Bethany Moreton is an Associate Professor of History and Women’s Studies at the University of Georgia and a series editor for Columbia University Press’s Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism. Since receiving her doctorate in history at Yale University in 2006, she has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge and at the Harvard Divinity School. Her first book, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise(Harvard University Press, 2009) won the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for the best first book in U.S. history and the John Hope Franklin Award for the best book in American Studies. She is a founding member of the Tepoztlán Institute for the Transnational History of the Americas and a founding faculty member of Freedom University, which offers college coursework without charge to qualified Georgia high school graduates regardless of immigration status.