The “revenge of God” –the unexpected resurgence of strong religion after World War II –was in part the story of spiritual 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. Many evangelical believers, for example, met the service economy with a renewed theological emphasis on Christian service, elevating reproduction—in the form of opposition to abortion and homosexuality–to its core issue during the very years that reproductive labor became the essential experience of work. Among some white-collar professionals, spiritual exercises and sexual discipline cultivated office virtues like concentration and “flow.” Similarly, the magical appearance and disappearance of wealth that accompanied the financialization of the global economy gave rise both to the sexually conservative Christian financial advice industries and to the various pro-natalist prosperity gospels flowering from Seoul to Kinshasa to Colorado Springs. Rather than a zero-sum showdown between “jihad and McWorld,” in other words, we might be witnessing their recombination in unexpected ways that ask us to consider how sexual conservatism organizes economic liberalism.
Bethany Moreton is Associate Professor of History at the University of Georgia. She is the author of To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise(Harvard University Press, 2009) and is a series editor for the Columbia University Press’s Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism.