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Capitalism as Religion? A Study of Paul Tillich's Interpretation of Modernity.

Capitalism as Religion? A Study of Paul Tillich's Interpretation of Modernity. By Francis Ching-Wah Yip. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press for Harvard Theological Studies, 2010. 240 pp. $22.95 paper.

Francis Ching-Wah Yip provides a valuable summary and analysis of Paul Tillich's views of capitalism and modernity. Yip's outline of Tillich's perspective of capitalist modernity includes helpful distillations of the theologian's views of the historical development of capitalism, his affinities with the Frankfurt school, and his theonomous critique of capitalism and modernity. Through the course of this work, Yip corrects the scholarly notion that Tillich's American career ended the social and economic concerns that animated much of his German career. Yip demonstrates instead that Tillich had a lifelong preoccupation with the consequences of capitalist modernity.

Yet for Yip, Tillich's estimation of capitalism, for all of its merit, is outdated and incomplete. Yip finds it Eurocentric and unable to address global economic and ecological injustice. Tillich's social conception of religion as ultimate concern, moreover, cannot account for what Yip understands to be the full religious character of capitalism. In light of these problems with Tillich's thought, the author advances his own critique of capitalism that highlights the worldwide economic and ecological consequences of capitalism and argues that capitalism is the "civil religion of global modernity" (11).

These may be all worthy criticisms of Tillich but the first two are ahistorical and the last, according to Yip's own research, unoriginal. Even if his theology needs updating, Tillich should not be faulted for inattention to the "worsening of economic injustice both within and between countries" and the "global ecological crisis" (173). It is also unclear how his work differs or improves upon the scholarship of John Cobb, David Loy, and Harvey Cox, who he cites as having "pointed out the quasi-religious character of capitalism" (154).

doi: 10.1017/S0009640711001521

Andrew Finstuen

Boise State University

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Author:Finstuen, Andrew
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2011
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