Dec 7, 2012

Thinking about religious books as commodities

Matt Hedstrom, American Studies professor at the University of Virginia and author of the recently released The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century, talking about his book on Virginia public radio.

Hedstrom starts with a brief, of sorts, for the book markets and book cultures, and why that study is important in the study of religion:
"Religions also always take on the characteristics of their moment, of their surrounding culture. When you think about the United States in the 20th century, and still in the 21st century, I think the most powerful cultural forces we've got are media and the consumer marketplace. We shape our identities so much through what we consume and how we choose to consume all kinds of commodities, and how we consume media in particular. And, for a lot of Americans, over the course of the the 20th century, the most culturally significant commodity that they bought were books."
Thinking about books as commodities and about how faith as currently, culturally understood, is constructed in the context of such market interactions between consumers and commodities has been one of the major developments of my thinking in my dissertation work. Hearing Hedstrom talk at the Religion and the Marketplace conference in Heidelberg, in Oct. 2011, spurred me on in this.

His book, I think, will be a good addition to the growing body of work on religious book cultures.