The best books on American evangelicalism and neoliberal religion

Chad E. Seales Author Of Religion Around Bono: Evangelical Enchantment and Neoliberal Capitalism
By Chad E. Seales

Who am I?

I've always been fascinated by the ways religion reconciles contradiction. Both of my parents were public school teachers in the panhandle of Florida, and I now work at a public university in Texas, yet the culture in which I was raised, of white evangelicalism, supported economic policies of neoliberalism that defunded public life. My interest in American religion is motivated by the question of why we participate in systems that harm us. This is an economic question, but sufficient answers must address the power of religion to shape what we see as morally good and bad. These books all do that.

I wrote...

Religion Around Bono: Evangelical Enchantment and Neoliberal Capitalism

By Chad E. Seales,

Book cover of Religion Around Bono: Evangelical Enchantment and Neoliberal Capitalism

What is my book about?

My book details how evangelical Protestantism was diffused into global popular culture in such a powerful way that it shaped how those in Europe and America came to understand the continent of Africa as always in need of their help. The book tells a story of the most significant promoter of cultural evangelicalism after the Cold War: U2's Bono. As Billy Graham was to the U.S. political policies of the 1970s and '80s, Bono was to American-led neoliberal policies of corporate intervention in Africa after the 1990s. The book contends that to understand how neoliberalism continues to frame the politics of the good, you must understand the power of evangelicalism to make us feel good.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise

Why did I love this book?

Having grown up in a southern evangelical family in the 1980s and ‘90s, I never understood why my parents, like other southerners, were such staunch supporters of Sam Walton and Wal-Mart, when the chain store's economic approach of buy low, sell low, eroded small-town life. Then I read Moreton's book and it all made sense.

By Bethany Moreton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To Serve God and Wal-Mart as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the decades after World War II, evangelical Christianity nourished America's devotion to free markets, free trade, and free enterprise. The history of Wal-Mart uncovers a complex network that united Sun Belt entrepreneurs, evangelical employees, Christian business students, overseas missionaries, and free-market activists. Through the stories of people linked by the world's largest corporation, Bethany Moreton shows how a Christian service ethos powered capitalism at home and abroad.

While industrial America was built by and for the urban North, rural Southerners comprised much of the labor, management, and consumers in the postwar service sector that raised the Sun Belt to…

Book cover of Secure the Soul: Christian Piety and Gang Prevention in Guatemala

Why did I love this book?

No other book better encapsulates the evangelical spirit of neoliberal policies in the details of everyday life, including what it feels like to be arrested in the United States for being part of a gang, and ending up in a call center in Central America, only to be morally shamed for not working hard enough, as your corporate employer leverages the power of religion, and the threat of danger, to keep you trapped there. 

By Kevin Lewis O'Neill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Secure the Soul as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I'm not perfect," Mateo confessed, "Nobody is. But I try." Secure the Soul shuttles between the life of Mateo, a born-again, ex-gang member in Guatemala and the gang prevention programs that work so hard to keep him alive. Along the way, this poignantly written ethnography uncovers the Christian underpinnings of Central American security. In the streets of Guatemala City - amid angry lynch mobs, overcrowded prisons, and paramilitary death squads - millions of dollars empower church missions, faith-based programs, and seemingly secular security projects to prevent gang violence through the practice of Christian piety. With Guatemala increasingly defined by both…

Book cover of One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America

Why did I love this book?

This book offers a historical account of how corporations in the early to mid-twentieth century worked alongside churches to define the religious vision of the United States. What you get is a story of capital investment in the idea of Christian America, as told through culture-makers like Disney, industrial leaders like General Electric, and department stores like Sears. 

By Kevin M. Kruse,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked One Nation Under God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

We're often told that the United States is, was, and always has been a Christian nation. But in One Nation Under God , historian Kevin M. Kruse reveals that the belief that America is fundamentally and formally Christian originated in the 1930s.To fight the slavery" of FDR's New Deal, businessmen enlisted religious activists in a campaign for freedom under God" that culminated in the election of their ally Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. The new president revolutionized the role of religion in American politics. He inaugurated new traditions like the National Prayer Breakfast, as Congress added the phrase under God" to…

Consuming Religion

By Kathryn Lofton,

Book cover of Consuming Religion

Why did I love this book?

If you want to understand how corporations and not churches became the most powerful institutions of moral influence in America, capable of taking away an employee's personal choice outside the workplace and denying their access to healthcare based on the owners’ biblical beliefs, legally protected by the U.S. government as a religious freedom, then you need to read this book.

By Kathryn Lofton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Consuming Religion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What are you drawn to like, to watch, or even to binge? What are you free to consume, and what do you become through consumption? These questions of desire and value, Kathryn Lofton argues, are at bottom religious questions. Whether or not you have been inside of a cathedral, a temple, or a seminary, you live in the frame of religion. In eleven essays exploring soap and office cubicles, Britney Spears and the Kardashians, corporate culture and Goldman Sachs, Lofton shows the conceptual levers of religion in thinking about social modes of encounter, use, and longing. Wherever we see people…

Book cover of Spirituality, Corporate Culture, and American Business: The Neoliberal Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capital

Why did I love this book?

Austin, Texas, where I now live, is home to the first Whole Foods in America. Before the chain of grocery stores was bought out by Amazon, I used to shop there. Then I stopped, or well, I no longer went as often, because I learned in LoRusso's book that company founder John Mackey promoted a libertarian spirituality that considered government interference morally hostile and went as far as to proclaim Obama Care a form of fascism. 

By James Dennis Lorusso,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Spirituality, Corporate Culture, and American Business as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By the early twenty-first century, Americans had embraced a holistic vision of work, that one's job should be imbued with meaning and purpose, that business should serve not only stockholders but also the common good, and that, for many, should attend to the "spiritual" health of individuals and society alike.

While many voices celebrate efforts to introduce "spirituality in the workplace" as a recent innovation that holds the potential to positively transform business and the American workplace, James Dennis LoRusso argues that workplace spirituality is in fact more closely aligned with neoliberal ideologies that serve the interests of private wealth…

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