image of Interview on the new publication: The textbook 'Religionsökonomie' will be put up for discussion in September in Bayreuth

Interview on the new publication: The textbook 'Religionsökonomie' will be put up for discussion in September in Bayreuth

The textbook "Religionsökonomie" by Maren Freudenberg and Kianoosh Rezania was recently published by utb-Verlag.
Maren Freudenberg is a sociologist of religion with a focus on contemporary American Christianity and an academic adviser at CERES, Kianoosh Rezania is an ancient Iranian scholar and holds the professorship for West Asian religious history at CERES.
We asked both of them about their textbook and about the research area religion and economy at CERES in general.

Let's come to the first and probably most important question: What does religion have to do with economics at all?

Pretty much! Religious organizations such as churches have to finance themselves as economic actors and are also often employers, manage real estate, produce products and much more. Some religions actively market themselves by branding and selling products and ideas, i.e. presenting themselves as a brand. Conversely, religion also influences the economy: Religious norms and ethics dictate, for example, how followers of a religion should act economically - think of the Islamic ban on interest or the prosperity gospel, which is now widespread in Christianity.

In the textbook we take a look at the many and complex connections between religion and business as two independent sub-areas of society. On the one hand, this means looking at the object level at how religion and business influence each other; and on the other hand to show on the meta-level how the two scientific disciplines religious studies and economics examine these connections.

Who is the textbook aimed at?

We wrote the book for students and lecturers of both religious studies and economics to stimulate mutual interest, summarize existing research and open up future perspectives. Religious scholars and economists have so far had few points of contact - although there is a lot of research potential to examine the connections between religion and economy from an interdisciplinary perspective. That is why we have written an introductory chapter on religious studies and microeconomics in the book, so that newcomers can get a general impression of the subject area and the working methods of these disciplines.

What is the focus of the textbook?

We delve into four areas in particular: The business ethics of different religious traditions and their impact on different levels of society; the financing and marketing of religion, the modeling of religion, in particular the market model that examines religion under economic premises; and more recent approaches such as behavioral economics and new institutional economics.

How long have you been working on it?

The publisher approached us in late summer 2020. We first worked on the concept and structure and started writing the first chapters in 2021. 2022 was an intense textbook writing year as we wrote it alongside other ongoing projects, teaching commitments, etc.

Are there any economics experts who contributed to the textbook?

Prof. Dr. Julio R. Robledo, our colleague from economics at the RUB, actively supported us with the introductory chapter on microeconomics, for which we are very grateful.

What role does religious economics play in research and teaching at CERES?

We are interested in the economics of religion from different perspectives and have implemented this interest in different formats for several years. In 2018 we jointly developed an “Introduction to the Economics of Religion” seminar, which mainly covered theoretical basics – from household economics to rational choice and the market model to approaches that examine religion in neoliberalism.

At the same time, together with other colleagues at CERES and at the chair for economic history at the Humboldt University in Berlin, we set up a working group on religion and economics, which has since organized an interdisciplinary workshop on various focal points every year. There is always room here to address your own interests, to discuss ongoing projects and to develop new ideas.

For the past two semesters we have taught an in-depth two-part seminar on the economics of religion, which was not only an introductory theoretical course, but also a teaching research seminar: students conducted their own surveys of investment in religion in different religious traditions. That worked very well and once again showed us the potential that the field has.

And what's next in this area?

We are excited to see how the textbook will be received. Since religious economics is a rather neglected area in German-speaking religious studies, we hope to stimulate discourse and, of course, research. We will put the textbook up for discussion at the conference of the German Association for Religious Studies in Bayreuth in September in the "Author Meets Critics" format in order to receive critical feedback.

Thank you very much for the interview.