American Christianity & Consumerism: Understanding the Relationship Between Christian Economic Culture and Secular Consumer Culture

Doctoral Dissertation


This study examines the relationship between two influential moral orders in American culture: Christianity and consumerism. Using interview and survey data from the University of Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Project, I explore how mainstream American Christianity interacts with the quasi-religion of consumerism. I define and specify cultural rules and schemas by which Americans participate in consumerism and Christians engage the consumerist religion. I also extend the study of Christianity and consumerism beyond consumption by discussing how religious giving, especially tithing, indirectly leads a minority of Christians to partially and indirectly resist consumerism.

Findings reveal important aspects of normative consumer culture in America, but also show several underlying mechanisms, “monies,” ideal types, and images of God that help explain how and why mainstream American Christianity generally supports, and sometimes resists, consumerism. I argue that that mainstream American Christianity is multi-vocal regarding consumerism, but the most widely accepted voices prop up the consumerist regime by dualistically compartmentalizing some aspects of economic life from religion—especially point-of-purchase situations—promoting unfettered consumerism through the prosperity gospel, and by encouraging prudent consumerism through a gospel of fiscal responsibility.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-12082014-160737

Author Peter Mundey
Advisor Christian Smith
Contributor Christian Smith, Committee Chair
Contributor Omar Lizardo, Committee Member
Contributor Kraig Beyerlein, Committee Member
Contributor David Sikkink, Committee Member
Contributor Mary Ellen Konieczny, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Sociology
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2014-08-29

Submission Date 2014-12-08
  • United States of America

  • culture

  • christianity

  • religion

  • consumption

  • religious giving

  • consumerism

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


Please Note: You may encounter a delay before a download begins. Large or infrequently accessed files can take several minutes to retrieve from our archival storage system.