Wanamaker’s Temple: The Business of Religion in an Iconic Department Store

Nicole C. Kirk. New York Univ., $35 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4798-3593-5
This debut monograph by Kirk, professor of Unitarian Universalist history at Meadville Lombard Theological School, is a trenchant, academic study of John Wanamaker (1838–1922) and Wanamaker’s department stores through the lens of evangelical Protestantism at the turn of the 20th century. Charting the arc of Wanamaker’s life from errand boy to commercial titan, the book draws on the personal and business papers of John Wanamaker, the records of the church—Bethany Presbyterian—that he founded in his 20s, and a wide array of print sources to demonstrate how his religious and business practices were often one in the same. Kirk begins by meticulously exploring Wanamaker’s exceptional place in the rapidly innovating landscape of late 19th century retail. For Wanamaker, the construction of the department store was a socially reformatory enterprise—cultivating a white, Protestant middle class through Protestant-infused training of retail workers, religious iconography in stores, and commercial Christian holiday displays. Kirk persuasively shows that Wanamaker’s Christian faith and business acumen informed one another within his own life and work, and inspired coreligionists and fellow businessmen to experiment with blending Christianity and commerce as America moved into the 20th century. This deeply sourced work will be helpful to scholars investigating the relationship between American capitalism and American Christianity. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/27/2018
Release date: 10/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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