Religious Markets

I don't want realism. I'll tell you what I want. Magic! —Blanche DuBois, in Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

In order to submit any kind of human behavior to formal economic analysis, three things are required, at a minimum, in addition to the axiom of rationality. The first is a clearly defined product (i.e., good, service, or intangible). The second is an operational notion of demand. The third is an operational notion of supply. Previous studies in the economics of religion generally come up short in one or more of these areas. Azzi and Ehrenberg, for example, model the consumption of "religion" as "afterlife consumption'' or as "religious commodities," without specifying details about the precise nature and meaning of the product. Although he has written extensively in the field, Iannaccone has remarkably little to say about the nature of the product that we call religion. In our earlier work1 we loosely defined the product as "assurances of salvation,'' but we did not probe very deeply into the nature or form of the product demanded and supplied in religious markets.

Among the pioneers in this field, Brooks B. Hull and Frederick Bold2 have been most conscientious in attempting to identify economic determinants of religious participation based on the number of religious products, or forms of religion. But in all these studies, including our own, markets for the particular forms of religion are simply assumed. In this chapter and the next, we examine some of the reasons why these markets may be characterized as rational and why they emerge and evolve in particular forms at various times and places in ancient and contemporary societies. The point of this effort is to establish the existence of an ongoing market for religion founded on historical, psychological, and physiological phenomena that are capable of explaining determinants of the demand for and supply of religion in all human societies. The quest to formulate a rational demand for religion and to describe markets in religion is not entirely new. Sociologists Rodney Stark and Roger Finke apply an axiomatic, sociological approach to the rational choice of religion in order to develop an interesting model similar to that explained in this chapter.3 A central difference between our analysis and theirs is that we attempt to set the theory of religious-form choice within the framework of economic theory. But whatever model is employed, it must be noted that the conclusions drawn from it are highly sensitive to definitions of religion, spirituality, magic, and belief.

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