I am an assistant professor in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University, working on digital history and the history of American religions. You can find a link to just about anything I've worked on in my CV or in the blog archives. Some of my work is described in more detail on the research page, and my syllabi are on the teaching page along with workshop materials. You can write to me at lincoln@lincolnmullen.com.

Preliminary Reading List for Religion and Capitalism

[This post was originally published at Religion in American History. Readers there made many additional suggestions.]

This spring I’ll have a chance to teach a graduate readings seminar on the history of religion and American capitalism. This a course I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and for a number of reasons I think it is worth doing.

The first reason is that the field of American religious history is shot through with (mostly unexamined) economic metaphors. The most obvious of these metaphors is that there was a “marketplace” of denominations or religions in the United States. As a field I don’t think we’ve yet reckoned with theoretical work like Leigh Schmidt’s groundbreaking but infrequently cited essay, “Practices of Exchange: From Market Culture to Gift Economy in the Interpretation of American Religion.” Then too, much thinking about religion and capitalism boils down the idea that religion supports (or should support) capitalism or opposes (or should oppose) capitalism. If the “line separating good and evil passes … right through every human heart,” it seems to me that promotion of and resistance to capitalism runs right through most religious groups. I hope this class will be a chance to examine, and perhaps discard, some of these ways of talking about the field.

Second, the class should be a way of integrating disparate streams of American religious history. As I’ve written elsewhere, what I think our field needs most is synthetic work that brings together the rich but fragmentary studies of different groups. There are many ways to attempt this, but to the extent that capitalism is the water in which all these denominational fishes swim, examining how various groups have interacted with capitalism seems like an obvious way to attempt integration.

Third, the so-called “new history of capitalism” is a vibrant and growing field. Witness Seth Rockman’s recent essay, “What Makes the History of Capitalism Newsworthy?,” in the Journal of the Early Republic, or Edward Baptist’s recent The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and Making of American Capital. Some of the most interesting recent work in American religious history has contributed to this field. One thinks of Bethany Moreton’s To Serve God and Wal-Mart at one end of the chronological spectrum, and Mark Valeri’s Heavenly Merchandize at the other, with plenty more in between. Still I sense plenty of opportunity for American religious historians to borrow from and give back to the new history of capitalism.

That leads me to the last reason, which is that there are still many gaps in the history of religion and capitalism in the United States. There are some articles and chapters on Mormons and the economy, but nothing comparable to Leonard Arrington’s 1958 Great Basin Kingdom. I had hoped to include a book on slavery, religion, and capitalism, but I couldn’t find anything suitable (correct me if I’m wrong!). The history of the Catholic Worker movement could be updated since Mel Piehl’s 1982 Breaking Bread. Eventually I’d like to do some work on those gaps, and perhaps the other members of the seminar will find their own topics of interest.

But it’s perilous to point out lacunae in the literature, since those holes might just be gaps in my reading or thinking. So I put the question to you, RinAH readers. Below is the core of the reading list (not a full syllabus, obviously) for the semester, following a one-book-per-week rule. I intend to add a list of related but not required reading to each week of the syllabus. (Very rough start here.) And I’m almost certainly going to include excerpts from theoretical works on capitalism by Weber, Marx, Durkheim, Bourdieu etc. What would you do differently? What other works would you recommend?

  1. Valeri, Mark. Heavenly Merchandize: How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

  2. Engel, Katherine Carte. Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

  3. Block, Kristen. Ordinary Lives in the Early Caribbean: Religion, Colonial Competition, and the Politics of Profit. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012.

  4. Noll, Mark A., ed. God and Mammon: Protestants, Money, and the Market, 1790-1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

  5. Stewart Davenport, Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon: Northern Christians and Market Capitalism, 1815–1860 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

  6. McDannell, Colleen. Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

  7. Schmidt, Leigh Eric. Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.

  8. Arrington, Leonard J. Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1830-1900. New edition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

  9. Kobrin, Rebecca, ed. Chosen Capital: The Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press,
  10. Phillips, Paul T. A Kingdom on Earth: Anglo-American Social Christianity, 1880–1940. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006.

  11. Heineman, Kenneth J. A Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005.

  12. Hudnut-Beumler, James. In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar: A History of Money and American Protestantism. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

  13. Bowler, Kate. Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

  14. Moreton, Bethany. To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,

Gender package now on CRAN

Gender is an R package which takes names and associated dates or ranges of dates and predicts the gender of the name. The gender package is now on CRAN for the first time; you can also see the package README at GitHub. This is the package description:

Encodes gender based on names and dates of birth, using either the Social Security Administration’s data set of first names by year of birth or Census Bureau data from 1789 to 1940, both from the United States of America. By using these data sets instead of lists of male and female names, this package is able to more accurately guess the gender of a name, and it is able to report the probability that a name was male or female.

The package was based on an idea by Cameron Blevins, with whom I’m collaborating on a related article, and it includes significant contributions from Ben Schmidt.

A Vagrant Development Environment for R

Most of the time when I’m working in R I’m using Mac OS X and I have a bunch of packages installed. But often I want to run my R code in a clean environment, and when I’m developing a package I want to test it on a Linux instance. The combination of Vagrant and VirtualBox makes it easy to write a script which spools up a virtual machine for this purpose. I’ve created a set of files for Vagrant that created an Ubuntu 14.04 virtual machine, provision it with all the development tools I need, then install commonly used R packages. Creating a new development environment is as simple as cloning the repository and running vagrant up. You can get these scripts at GitHub.

Every so often, I also want to spool up a server at Amazon EC2 with far more RAM and processing power than I have on my laptop. While the Vagrantfile is unnecessary for this, the files bootstrap.sh and install-r-packages.R can be adapted with just a little modification to provision an EC2 instance.

Two New Classes for the Spring

This spring I’ll be teaching two new courses. This first is a graduate course on “Religion and Capitalism in the United States.” The new history of capitalism is bringing tremendous energy to American history generally, and historians of American religions have been producing lots of great books on the connection between religion and capitalism recently. Here is my first take at a course description:

Religion and Capitalism in the US

It seems obvious that there is some relationship between religion and capitalism, but what is that relationship? Historians of the United States have tried to answer this question in many ways; even more, it was a problem that perplexed the people whom historians study. In this class, you will meet many people whose religion led them to interact with capitalism in incredibly diverse ways. You will meet the Puritans whose work ethic supposedly created capitalism, but who insisted on resting on the Sabbath; Moravian missionaries who made converts and money; slaves, slaveowners, and abolitionists who all claimed the Bible when reckoning with the capitalist system of slavery; a Protestant writer who insisted that Jesus was a businessman, and Catholics who believed Jesus called them to a kind of socialism; Jews who mass-manufactured matzah and who were prosecuted for breaking Sunday “blue laws”; an industrialist who wrote The Gospel of Wealth, and laborers who created churches for the working class; nineteenth-century consumers who turned gift-giving into a ritual, and a twenty-first-century television personality who turned consumption into therapy; converts who thought religion required poverty, and Prosperity Gospelers who thought it promised wealth. You will read primary sources from American history, secondary works in both religious history and the new history of capitalism, and excerpts from theorists of religion and capitalism. Through these readings and your own research project, you are invited make sense of this perpetual historical puzzle.

The second class is called “The Digital Past.” It is a course taught by many people in my department. The class is both a history class, focusing on digital history methods, and a course which meets the university’s IT requirement. Here is the course description for my version of the class (heavily indebted to both Sharon Leon’s version and Stephen Robertson’s):

The Digital Past

In this class, you will to learn to do history using digital tools. The course—which satisfies the university’s IT requirement—teaches the fundamentals of information technology by applying them to a practical problem in history. Throughout the semester, you will work individually and with classmates on a research project about American religious history. You will learn how to do research online, but also how to put those sources in the context of other scholarly work. You will gather data, learn how to question it, analyze it, summarize it, and interpret it. You will create visualizations of datasets, especially maps. But you will also learn how to integrate data with narratives from individual lives. You will learn how to present visual and textual sources online in web exhibits, and you will learn how to write and publish effectively online. Through learning by doing, you will gain many digital skills which are broadly applicable; even more important, you will learn how to use these skills to create arguments and stories. This combination will be useful to you throughout your university career and in your professional life.