Religious leaders and groups can play a crucial role in economic and political life through their discourse; such discourse is a central way that they produce the sacred in the economic realm. This is true across a range of religious traditions and organizations. In turn, a rich economic sociology scholarship constantly demonstrates that markets are cultural constructions. These two topics smoothly merge in Amy Reynolds’ original and interesting book Free Trade and Faithful Globalization: Saving the Market.
In this excellent study of various Christian communities in the United States (Presbyterian Church), Canada (Kairos, an ecumenical organization), and Costa Rica (Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica, a Catholic council of bishops), Reynolds analyzes how religious groups and actors talk about “free trade” and the politics surrounding economic life. Reynolds examines how these Christian organizations speak about trade and the economy as moral and value-laden spaces, deserving ethical reflection and requiring political action. She first focuses on the ways that social and political ideas and values, and why religion is an especially important voice to consider in discourse about trade have shaped the structure of markets. Then, through three well-researched case studies, the author reveals the ways in which religious communities have asked people to engage in new approaches to thinking about the market, how institutional factors influenced the production of discourse, and how the communities have worked to create alternative networks and policies governing economic and social life.
Reynolds compellingly argues that for religious groups that are critical of current economic globalization efforts, like those presented in the book, a core set of values seems to motivate involvement, with concern for the community being the most central. Second, both national identities and organizational structures are important in explaining the different modes of discourse in which organizations engage. That is, while each of the groups is a transnational actor in some respects, they all engage with national audiences and are influenced by national values. Reynolds also suggests that different understandings about the role of religion and the role of economists have lent themselves to very different styles of engagement in political life – from influencing the values of debate to crafting actual policy.