Advantages of the Economic Approach

The events in the United States of September 11, 2001, and their aftermath, have stirred, more than ever, awareness among social scientists of the importance of studying religion. This book seeks to contribute to our understanding of religion by demonstrating the usefulness of economic analysis for the study of Christianity, both past and present. The level of historical and theological analysis presented here is not as deep as some scholars would prefer, but such depth is neither the intent nor the justification of our effort. Our investigation convinces us that an economic approach to religion may be justified in its own right or, at the very least, as a useful accoutrement to approaches employed in other fields. Our approach particularly reaffirms the fact that economic investigations like ours must include findings from other social sciences. With regard to religion in general and Christianity in specific, the advantages that we claim on behalf of the economics of religion help us to understand many nettlesome issues that occupied Christianity in the past or that will challenge it in the future. For example, the quasi-monopoly held by the Catholic Church until the sixteenth century had a decided and predictable impact on the formation of religious markets. Economic analysis can help us understand how religious markets evolved to satisfy changing (consumer) demands, and what social, political, and economic consequences followed from the entry of new firms (churches) into religious markets. Economic analysis can also shed light on the exasperating tendency of violence to be perpetrated in the name of religion, even though most organized religions embrace the concept of peace as a moral imperative. Economic analysis can help us understand how and why new doctrinal innovations occur over time and the motivation behind religious entrepreneurship. It can help us understand (and even predict) the origins and consequences of schisms within Christian religions. It can even help us develop an informed judgment about the probable fate of ecumenical movements in contemporary Christianity. There is undoubtedly much more that economic analysis can contribute to our understanding of, and appreciation for, religion, but we make no effort to be exhaustive in this regard. Inasmuch as the field is still considered to be at the cutting edge, it is likely that more than a few of its advantages cannot easily be foreseen.

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