Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2011, 9:00 am

Augie professor's Christian consumer book strings many pearls of wisdom, whimsy

Comment on this story

By Leon Lagerstam, llagerstam@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Augustana College assistant professor of religion and author Laura Hartman shows her new book 'The Christian Consumer: Living Faithfully in a Fragile World published' by Oxford University Press. The book offers a view of consumption that draws on Christian thought from biblical times to the present day.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Augustana College assistant professor of religion and author Laura Hartman shows her new book 'The Christian Consumer: Living Faithfully in a Fragile World published' by Oxford University Press. The book offers a view of consumption that draws on Christian thought from biblical times to the present day.
ROCK ISLAND -- Grandma was stingy, but her family looked for gentler ways to describe her.

Dr. Laura Hartman, an Augustana College assistant professor of religion, was wearing a pearl necklace given to her by her grandmother and clothes she got from Goodwill and the Salvation Army as she discussed a new book she had written, titled ''The Christian Consumer: Living Faithfully in a Fragile World.''

The pearls, she said, were fake, as would be expected from a no-nonsense stingy grandmother, who, when taken around town to look at Christmas lights, would instead point out the houses without lights that were saving energy costs.

Instead of ''stingy,'' however, Dr. Hartman prefers terms such as ''ethical consumption,'' ''environmentally friendly,'' and ''human-rights oriented,'' in her book.

She said she hopes readers won't feel scolded or ashamed of their shopping habits, but instead feel empowered to make better decisions, especially at a time of economic troubles when it's ''hard to know what's ahead for us.''

It's common for consumers to ponder what and how much to buy for the holidays, according to a college news release.

It's not just about one decision faced by a last-minute Christmas shopper, or someone going to a grocery store looking for Christmas dinner items, Dr. Hartman said. ''It's about figuring out, and then changing, your habits.''

Her studies and reflections, based on biblical views and Christian thought, have turned her into an advocate for public transit and a regular shopper at places such as Goodwill, the Salvation Army and farmers' markets, she said.

An earlier college anthropology class that focused on ethical consumption left her feeling empowered, knowing she could control her own consumption, and help others learn to as well.

There are no easy answers, or even rules, Dr. Hartman said. Her book explains a four-point ethical consumption framework -- 1. Avoid sin. 2. Embrace creation. 3. Love the neighbor. 4. Envision the future.''

''That gives us a model to discern what we ought to do,'' Dr. Hartman said.

Spending more time with family and friends instead of money on ''over-pricey, store-bought items'' is something she strongly encourages.

''What people remember the most about Christmas are the stories that are shared, not the gifts,'' she said. ''Most of us have plenty of stuff, but are poor in time.''

Biblical examples of how important the Sabbath is to God proves that ''He wants to give us the gift of time,'' Dr. Hartman said, ''time to spend relaxing and reflecting on the life God gave us.''

Or, as it's expressed on a bumper sticker she likes, what's needed most is ''More fun, less stuff.''

The bumper sticker belongs to Center for a New American Dream, an organization dedicated to changing American consumption. Dr. Hartman once spent a year with the organization as an intern.

Her book is available in the college library, at Prairie Lights online bookstores, or from a local library.

The book has information for consumers to use at all times of the year, not just during the holiday season, she said.

''In many ways, the book may be more appropriate as a New Year's resolution,'' Dr. Hartman said.

Its pearls of wisdom and whimsy are helpful year-round, she said, and they're real.





Dr. Laura Hartman

Address: Rock Island.

Birth date: April 24, 1978.

Occupation: Assistant professor of religion, Augustana College, Rock Island, since 2008.

Education: Bachelor's degree from Indiana University; doctorate from the University of Virginia.

Hometown: Lexington, Ky.

Family: Son, Theodore.

Favorite Biblical character I'd like to meet: ''Mary's husband, Joseph.''

Hobbies: ''Urban hiking.''

Peak experience: ''Birth of my son.''

Pit experience: ''When I almost couldn't finish my dissertation.''

One thing I feel strongly about: ''Considering our consumption deeply.''

I wish I knew how to: ''Get by with less sleep.''