Hope and Hunger organiser Dr Charlie Pemberton has submit a paper for the forthcoming conference Religion and Poverty in Salzburg.
The conference website can be found here.
Paper Title: Foodbank, Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
One of the most abiding challenges of Max Weber’s The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is his suggestion that a religious anxiety is at the heart of modern industriousness. For Weber, the good works of Protestant Christians (actions both ancillary to church participation and irrelevant in the economy of salvation) bear an elective affinity with the forms of labour and lifestyle stipulated by the maxims of capitalist profitability.
Initially, applying Weber’s analysis to the current proliferation of British foodbanks, with their Protestant theological heritage, seems immediately viable. I.e. Foodbank volunteering is internal to a process of ‘moral selving’, rendered coherent by a larger plausibility structure, sacred canopy or religious cosmology. However, given the embeddedness of current foodbanks within the secular logics of labour, retraining and governmentalist welfare, along with the collaboration of members of many faiths and no faiths in the foodbank movement, is Weber’s analogical analysis of the theological and the social of abiding significance?
This paper will suggest that the bridge from Protestant social service to humanitarianism and neoliberal governance is an example of what the American political theologian William Cavanaugh calls a ‘migration of the holy’. If this is correct, then Weber’s analysis remains a viable line of investigation: the foodbank phenomenon is not an example of contemporary instrumentalised, secularised politics or simply the return of an explicitly religious public ministry.
Instead, following Weber, I will argue that foodbanks are an illuminating landmark in an emergent religious topography (with a concomitant geography of symbols, rituals, charismatic leaders and founding myths) which is outwardly secular but substantively religious. The paper will close by identifying a number of the key features of this new ‘religious’ landscape. Foremost amongst these (along with the ‘invisible hand’ of the market, the sacredness of the nation, the sovereignty of parliament, and the teleology of Gross Domestic Product) is a normative anthropology which associates social status with public contribution (primarily through forms of un/paid work) and the related disposability, or uncleanliness, of the undeserving poor.
10:30am - 5:00pm. Saturday 3rd June, 2017.
Abbey House, Palace Green, Durham, DH1 3RS
For more information contact: Hopeandhunger2017@gmail.com
Conference artwork generously donated by Lottie Stoddart and Lacuna magazine.