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Evangelist of Fragments: Doing Mite-Box Capitalism in the Late Nineteenth Century

Abstract

A century ago, the mite box (penny collection box) was ubiquitous in North America as a religious fundraising tool, especially for women and children. Using the Methodist Woman's Foreign Missionary Society as a case study, I ask what these boxes reveal about the intersection of gender, consumerism, and capitalism from circa 1870–1930. By cutting across traditional Weberian and Marxist analyses, the discussion engages a more complex understanding of religion and capital that includes emotional attachments and material sensations. In particular, I argue that mite boxes clarify how systematic giving was institutionalized through practices that created an imaginative bridge between the immediacy of a sensory experience and the projections of social policies and prayers. They also demonstrate how objects became physical points of connection that materialized relationships that were meant to be present, but were not tangible. Last, they demonstrate the continued salience of older Christian ideas about blessings and sacrifice, even in an era normally associated with the secularization of market capitalism and philanthropy.

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
  • URL: /core/journals/church-history
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