September 5, 2022

What is work? Why do we do it? And what does it have to do with religion? Join CCSR Visiting Fellow Lauren Kerby to explore where Americans’ ideas about work come from (spoiler alert: race and gender are involved too). In this episode, learn about the subtle, even invisible ways religion influences our society, and hear what the Puritans had to say about what happens to lazy children.


About the Expert

Dr. Lauren R. Kerby is an expert in American religion and politics. Her first book, Saving History, explores white Christian nationalists’ version of American history through a study of Christian heritage tours in Washington, D.C. During those tours, she started paying attention to how religion can influence what people say or do even when it’s completely implicit. Her current project, Religion at Work, develops strategies to notice that deep level of religion in society, using Americans’ ideas about work as a case study. This series is informed by her own experiences of unemployment, precarity, and workplace sexism, even as it is made possible by her privilege as a middle class, educated white woman currently employed at Princeton University.

This series was filmed and produced on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded lands of the Lenni-Lenape people, who maintain a continuing relationship with their territory.

Start a Conversation

  1. Before you watched this episode, what did you think religion had to do with work? How did this episode surprise you, challenge you, or confirm your initial ideas?
  2. Where did you learn what work is and why you should do it? How similar were those lessons to the sort of lessons Puritan children learned?
  3. How would you define work? How would you persuade others that your definition is helpful?

Selected Bibliography

Fessenden, Tracy. Culture and Redemption. Princeton University Press, 2008.

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. Strangers in Their Own Land. The New Press, 2018.

Jakobsen, Janet, and Ann Pellegrini. Love the Sin. New York University Press, 2003.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Routledge, 1930/2001.