Economic markets tell us about the production and distribution of material goods. But humankind's spiritual needs, as manifested through the ages by the practices of magic and religion, are as pressing and durable as its material needs. The existential dilemma posed by life on planet earth was as real for the ancient hunter as it is for the modern computer programmer. For eons, religion in its myriad forms has been a binding force of human populations and a contributing factor to human survival. Can economics, the science of markets, help us understand this realm of human behavior? We believe that it can, especially when it enlists other social and biological sciences to explain religious markets in all eras of human history and, in particular, in the half-millennium from the Protestant Reformation to modern Christianity.
Our study of Christianity shows that the economics of religion has little to do with counting the money in the collection basket and much to do with understanding the background of today's religious/political divisions. Because religion is a set of organized beliefs, and a church is an organized body of worshippers, it is natural to use economics— a science that explains the behavior of individuals in organizations—to understand the development of organized religion. The Marketplace of Christianity applies the tools of contemporary economics to explain the existence of religion, changes in its organizational form, and the impact of contemporary religion-influenced controversies, including such hotbutton issues as biologic evolution and gay marriage.
The conceptual foundation for this book began in 1981 in Ekelund and Tollison's Mercantilism as a Rent-Seeking Society, which established the basic research paradigm for exploring institutional, economic/political change in an emergent commercial society. That paradigm was deployed in 1996 in a book entitled Sacred Trust to explore the nature and operation of the medieval church. The Marketplace of Christianity is yet a further progression in the mode of applying economics to major historical interludes of abiding interest to social scientists. In this most recent effort, we go beyond mere historical exegesis by attempting to evaluate contemporary religious policies and practices that may help predict the future course of Christianity, including possible schisms. Christianity today is awash in controversies over matters of faith and morality: abortion, stem cell research, gay rights, women's rights, and women and gays in the clergy. We treat these factors as "shifters" in the demand for particular forms of Christian religion that will have profound effects on the whole nature of Christianity.
In Christendom, the market for religion was dominated for over a thousand years by a single institution, the Roman Catholic Church. Eventually the monopoly was challenged successfully and the market was opened to competition. The Protestant Reformation was a successful penetration of a religious market dominated by a monopoly firm. The Ninety-five Theses nailed to the Wittenberg church door in 1517 by Martin Luther was the flash point in what became a pitched battle of rivalrous market entry. In economic terms, the dominant-firm reaction to this assault on its market leadership was predictable. The Counter-Reformation accelerated the competitive process, which came to be characterized by "product differentiation" in the form of doctrinal and organizational innovations. History can be refracted through many prisms. By refracting it through the prism of economics, we can see how Christianity evolved to satisfy the changing demands of consumers/worshippers.
Critics of the economics of religion regard the attempt to explain religious behavior on economic grounds to be illegitimate or, worse, perverse. While we obviously do not share this view, we nevertheless recognize many pitfalls in the way of unbiased analysis. We seek to explain, not to judge. Our analysis takes preferences for religion as given, and analyzes their observable effects on society and the individual. In order to be intelligible to non-economists, we preface our detailed analysis of changes in religious forms with clear and nontechnical background information on economics and the economics of religion. And rather than maintain that an economic perspective is the only or preferred approach, we incorporate the research of many other disciplines to buttress our arguments.
Completion of a major project such as this brings not only a sense of accomplishment and relief but also an opportunity to acknowledge the assistance and support of many others. In particular we would like to thank friends, colleagues, and former students: James M. Buchanan, Audrey Davidson Kline, Gary M. Anderson, Sonja Langley, Lane Boyte, John Jackson, Richard Ault, Brighita Bercea, Randy Beard, Dave Kaser-man, William Shughart, Bobby McCormick, Jody Lipford, Mark Thornton, Michael Maloney, and Kristine Terkun. Editors and anonymous referees of the Journal of Political Economy, Kyklos, Economic Inquiry, History of Political Economy, and Oxford University Press helped us weigh and refine various arguments that made their way into this book. Part of the research for this book was conducted while Ekelund was Vernon F. Taylor Visiting Distinguished Professor at Trinity University in San Antonio in the spring of 2003. He gratefully acknowledges that support as well as insights derived from stimulating discussions of religion with John and Mary Jane Roper. Parts of this book were the subject of seminars given at Clemson University and the University of Georgia by Tollison, who wishes to thank seminar participants at these universities as well as the participants in the Program on Religion, Political Economy, and Society at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. We would also like to thank the following journals for allowing us to excerpt materials from our published papers: Kyklos (Richard Ault, Ekelund, and Tollison, "The Pope and the Price of Beef: A Public Choice Perspective," 1987; Brighita Bercea, Ekelund, and Tollison, "Cathedrals as Entry-Deterring Devices,'' 2005); Journal of Political Economy (Ekelund, Hebert, and Tollison, "An Economic Analysis of the Protestant Reformation,'' 2002); and Economic Inquiry (Ekelund, Hebert, and Tollison, ''Economics of the Counter-Reformation: Incumbent-Firm Reaction to Market Entry,'' 2004). Our project owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the MIT Press and in particular to senior editor John S. Covell, editor Kathleen Caruso, freelance editor
Amanda Nash, and editorial assistant Hiu Yan Ho. Naturally we are responsible for the final quality of this book—a project that has held our fascinated interest for two decades.
Robert B. Ekelund Jr. Robert F. Hebert Robert D. Tollison
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