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Santa Clara University
Religious Studies Department, SCU
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  Course Description & Goals

What do you desire? Why do you want “goods,” and are these goods and desires actually good for you? What responsibility do you have to yourself and to others in your labor, your consumption, your property, your investments, your debts? What social, economic and political forces shape your sense of your needs and desires, and are you able to step outside the world that shapes you to recognize its advantages and limitations? In this course, you will explore these questions in your own life and in our own postmodern moment in dialogue with the beliefs and practices of Jews and Christians articulated in their scriptures. Think of the authors of scripture, its interpreters, and our contemporary theorists as conversation partners. As they analyze the ancient sacred or imperial economy or our contemporary capitalist one, they will help us to see ourselves more clearly—to see what we might otherwise take for granted.

We will begin with the contemporary authors, because they speak directly to the economic moment that is most familiar to us. Pope Francis has captured the imagination of many people, and has troubled others, with his critique of capitalism in his first apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.” We will read part of his critique, and then turn to a Christian economic ethicist, Daniel Finn. Both raise questions about our current practices, models and ideologies. We will use their ideas to provoke critical reflection on our own beliefs, assumptions and practices. Having posed an account of our own economic context, we will then dive into the economic world of the Bible. We want to study that original economic context so that we can better understand what passages about wealth, work, charity, and property originally might have meant, with special attention to the economic context of Jesus and his gospel message. To do this, we will treat the biblical texts and interpretations as secondary to the material economic realities of the authors, so that the religious beliefs will be understood (in a Marxist sense) as ideological mappings of economic experiences and aspirations—as “case studies” revealing the material circumstances of Jews and Christians. But we will also want to see how these texts were interpreted as the economy began to change in the middle ages (Franciscan and scholastic thinkers), at the rise of capitalism (Adam Smith), in the industrial revolution (Karl Marx), and after the rise of communism (Ayn Rand), closing with reflections on Catholic social teaching to examine how it apprehends the biblical tradition of social justice in light of our economic system.

By the end of the course you will be able to:
  • Identify diverse perspectives and evaluate ethical positions on contemporary questions (namely, Jewish, Christian, Marxist, and objectivist perspectives on economic ethics).  RTC 3 Core 3.1

  • Evaluate and apply insights from the study of biblical texts and their interpretation to contemporary questions (for example, to the question of what constitutes a just and ethical economic practice).   RTC 3 Core 3.2

  • Identify and reflect on your own experience with greater clarity and confidence.   Course

  • Develop your research skills and your ability to present a thesis and an argument orally and in writing.   Course

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