Religious economy refers to the variety of religious options or choices that are available within a society. According to the theory of religious economy, religious pluralism results in a situation in which religions and religious organizations must compete for adherents in much the same was as businesses compete for consumers within a commercial economy. Typically, the theory of religious economies is tested in one of two ways. The first approach focuses on controlled religious economies (in which there is little religious pluralism) and observes what happens when more options become available. The second approach is historical in nature and analyzes what has happened in the past when individuals were given various options for religious choice. Although the research shows some support for the religious economies model, it is not without difficulties. There are a number of other factors that need to be considered in order to truly understand the complex relationship between religious pluralism and religious participation. Studies in this area are often correlational in nature and inappropriately attempt to infer causation from correlation.
Keywords Correlation; Denomination; Doctrine; Globalization; Persecution; Postmodernism; Religiosity; Religious Economy; Religious Pluralism; Secularization; Syncretism
Sociology of Religion: Religious Economy
Historically, one's choice of religion was often restricted geographically, and in many societies, one could predict the religious preference of an individual based on the person's origin. In Germany, for example, Bavarians were historically more likely to be Roman Catholics, whereas northern Germans were more likely to be Lutherans. Iraqis tend to be Muslim; Americans tend to be Christians; and Indians tend to be Hindus. There is, however, an increasing amount of religious pluralism in many societies. Although some societies tend to be insulated from a religious perspective and are intolerant of or even persecute members of other religions, more and more diversity is not only permitted but is taken for granted in many societies. With globalization of businesses and the relative ease of travel, religious pluralism is becoming more the rule than the exception. Within a thirty-minute drive from many American homes one can find not only Christian churches and Jewish synagogues, but also Islamic mosques, Buddhist temples, and a wide variety of other houses of worship and religious organizations. Even within some of these groups there is religious diversity; various Protestant churches run the gamut from conservative and right-wing to ultra liberal. Those wishing to find a house of worship have a great deal of variety from which to choose. Further, choice of religion is not necessarily even a one-time choice in today's postmodern society. If one does not like the doctrine or practices of one religion or denomination, one can easily leave and try another.
Religious Economy Theory
Religious economy refers to the variety of religious options or choices available within a society. According to the theory of religious economy, religious pluralism results in a situation in which religions and religious organizations must compete for adherents in much the same way as businesses compete for consumers within a commercial economy. Sociologists studying the concept of religious economies look not at the religions and beliefs of individuals within society, but at the society as a whole. As opposed to secularization theory, the theory of religious economies postulates that individuals within society are very interested in religion and in making a choice between their options in the religious marketplace. In addition, the theory of religious economy postulates that the more religious options that are available to individuals within a society, the more interested individuals will be in participating in a religious option. For example, in a society that has only one religious option, individuals can either choose to participate in that religion or not participate in religion at all. However, when individuals are given more religious options (e.g., Roman Catholic or Protestant), those who choose not to participate in religion when only one option was available may choose to participate when there is an alternative. As the alternatives for religion increase in the religious marketplace, the theory of religious economy predicts that an increasing number of people will become interested in religion because there are more choices available and this range of choices is more likely to contain one that meets their needs (Stockard, 2000).
Typically, the theory of religious economies is tested in one of two ways. The first approach focuses on controlled religious economies in which there is little religious pluralism, and observes what happens when more options become available. The second approach analyzes historical data to determine what has happened in the past when individuals are given options for religious choice. This latter approach typically examines the religious pluralism occurring in the United States. Research into each of these paradigms tends to demonstrate that the more options one has within a religious economy, the more likely people are to identify with a religion.
Controlled Religious Economy in Europe
Stockard (2000) has identified two kinds of controlled religious economies. The first of these comprises centrally controlled churches that are officially sanctioned by the government. Examples of this kind of religious economy exist in a number of European countries where Roman Catholicism is the state-approved religion. Countries falling into this category include Italy, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal, and Spain. Similarly, the Church of England is the state approved religion in that country. In Sweden, for example, the state church is the Evangelical Lutheran Church which is actually part of the government. Swedish nationals are automatically enrolled as members in the Evangelical Lutheran Church unless neither of their parents was a member or they officially request to opt out. In a concept foreign to most Americans, the Swedish government institutes church law, appoints bishops, pays pastors, and funds the construction of church buildings. In order to do these things, every Swedish citizen — whether or not s/he belongs to the church — supports the church through taxes. With such high enrollment in church membership, it might be reasonable to expect that attendance at church services would be high. The theory of religious economies, however, predicts just the opposite. In this case, this theory is proven to be true. Despite the fact that the Church of Sweden has large staffs and huge cathedrals, very few people attend services. Other religious groups have become more prevalent in Sweden. As predicted by religious economies theory, a small but significant proportion of people not previously attending church has since identified themselves with these new religious options. Further, not only are an increasing number of people associating themselves with religion, approximate 75 percent of these individuals attend services regularly. In other words, the wider the variety and the more the options available on the religious economy, the more people participate in religion. Similar trends can be observed in other places in the world (e.g., Latin America).
The second type of controlled religious economies involves situations in which the government attempts to eliminate religious beliefs. Examples of this kind of change in religious economy occurred after the fall of communism in countries belonging to the former Soviet states. For example, historically, the Russian Orthodox Church was the state-sponsored religion in Russia, funding churches, clergy, convents, and monasteries. Following Marxist doctrine, the new political regime attempted to systematically eliminate religious organizations and symbols. During the Stalinist era, the number of churches in Russia decreased to only a tenth of what they had been before the Russian Revolution. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many former republics once again became independent countries. Research and religiosity in Russia typically shows between 50 and 75 percent of Russians once again admit to believing in God. In fact, research has shown that nearly 25 percent of the Russians who once called themselves atheists state that they believe in God (Stockard, 2000).
History of Religious Economy in the United States...
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