Religious Anti-Capitalism? A Comparative Study of Jewish, Christian and Islamic Positions

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Research context: LOEWE research cluster "Religious Positioning: Modalities and Constellations in Jewish, Christian and Muslim Contexts" (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Christian Wiese; 13 research projects from different disciplines)

Application and principal investigator: Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Sutterlüty

Project team: Dr. Claudia Willms; Christian Sperneac-Wolfer, M.A.

Fellow of the Project, May – July 2019: Paul Lichterman, Professor of Sociology and Religion, University of Southern California

Fellow of the Project, October – December 2020: Volker Heins, Permanent Fellow at the Institute of Cultural Science Essen (KWI) and Professor of Political Science, University of Duisburg-Essen

Student Assistants: Alexander Kern, B.A.; Nils Kühl, B.A.

Funding institution: LOEWE (Scientific and Economic Excellence in Hesse)

Funding period: 01 January 2017 to 31 December 2021

This project examines religiously motivated critiques of both capitalism and marketization based on sociological case studies of Jewish, Christian and Islamic communities in Frankfurt am Main.

With their value systems and interpretations of the world, religious communities position themselves not only within the religious sphere, but also in relation to secular spheres of society and the institutionalized logic informing action there. Religious communities provide interpretive resources that can enter into tense relationships with the logic inherent in functional areas of society (e.g., politics, law, economics and science). Of particular relevance in this connection are the often conflict-ridden positionings of religious groups in relation to the economic sphere, brought to light by the classical studies of Max Weber. Against the backdrop of recent economic crises and the development of a "market society" in which exchanges and competitive relations are finding their way into a growing number of areas of life, religious positions that are critical of capitalism represent a promising field of inquiry, but are rarely studied in relation to contemporary society.

Our ethnographic investigation is divided into three subtopics and analytical levels: (1) On a descriptive level, it will address the question of what exactly the religious critiques of both capitalist profit-maximization processes and marketization tendencies take aim at, as well as which Jewish, Christian and Islamic semantics they employ. (2) On an explicative level, it will focus on how religious positions on capitalist market orders and their social consequences can be explained. Drawing on the figuration-sociological reflections of Norbert Elias, it will grasp thematic and social positions on the basis of their interdependence with other positions. (3) Finally, in close interdisciplinary cooperation with the other subprojects with the same LOEWE focus, the research project will examine whether and how we can justify the act of normatively privileging those forms of religious market criticism that are compatible with pluralist approaches as opposed to those that are not. In this connection, the project will proceed on the assumption that a democratic civil society depends on interpretive communities that serve as critical agents of societal reflection.


Sperneac-Wolfer, Christian: How German Muslims and Christians Criticize Capitalism, Canopy Forum, 2023.

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Sutterlüty, Ferdinand: Kirchen zwischen Gesellschaftskritik, Affirmation und Eskapismus: Zur Rolle religiöser Ideen, in: Georg Lämmlin (Hg.): Gesellschaftlicher Zusammenhalt in der postsäkularen Gesellschaft. Soziologische und theologische Beiträge. Baden-Baden: Nomos 2021, S. 21‒47.

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Sutterlüty, Ferdinand: The Role of Religious Ideas: Christian Interpretations of Social Inequalities, in: Critical Sociology, Vol. 42, No. 1, 2016, pp. 33‒48.