Religion and Commerce in Early Modern Europe Essay

Religion and Commerce in Early Modern Europe Essay

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Class discussions about religious history inevitably turn to the question of whether
religious ideals throughout history remain absolute or are relative to the social, political and
economic trends of the time. For example, students are sometimes disturbed to learn that in early
Christian history, conversion was often in response to economic or political benefits rather than
religious fervor. Naturally, at the Catholic prep school where I teach, students want to believe
religious ideals and rhetoric are absolute. Yet, when studying the role of religion in shaping
societies, one cannot help but be struck by the fluidity of religious rhetoric. Although such a
discovery may be obvious to some, it is important for students to understand that we still live in a
world where people make important social and political decisions based on moral absolutes, with
an insistence on traditional and unchangeable religious values. It is essential, therefore, that
teachers of religious history promote discussion on the possible flexibility of religious
ideologies: is religious rhetoric part of an unwavering, scriptural tradition, or do those who
practice religion create the rhetoric? Moreover, do human self-interest and socio-economic
change always trump religion? Are social ideologies always stronger than religious tradition?
After studying the creation of a modern industrial economy in Europe for these five weeks, I am
convinced that analyzing the evolution of religious rhetoric in early modern Europe, which is
such a transitional phase of history, can illuminate how social, political, economic and cultural
change can guide or completely alter the morals and ideologies of a society.
Eric Hobsbawm and Keith Wrightson both argue th...


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...New Press, 1999.

Lynn, Martin. “British Policy, Trade, and Informal Empire in the Mid-Nineteenth Century.”
In The Oxford History of the British Empire, the Nineteenth Century, vol III, edited by
Andrew Porter, 101-121. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

More, Thomas. Utopia. Translated by Paul Turner. London: Penguin Books, 2003.

O’Brien, Patrick. “Inseparable Connections: Trade, Economy, Fiscal State, and the Expansion of
Empire, 1688-1815.” In The Oxford History of the British Empire, The Eighteenth
Century, vol. II, edited by P.J. Marshall, 54-77. Oxford, New York: Oxford University
Press, 1998.

____. “Mercantilism and Imperialism in the Rise and Decline of the Dutch and British
Economies 1585-1815.” De Economist 148, no. 4 (2000): 469-501.

Wrightson, Keith. Earthly Necessities. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000.

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