During the long hiatus in the economics of religion between Adam Smith and Gary Becker, sociologists and historians steadily and persistently enriched the field. Max Weber's provocative study appeared in German in 1904-1905 and was followed shortly thereafter by Emile Durkheim's The Elementary Forms of Religious Life.78 Economist Werner Sombart and economic historian Richard H. Tawney erected counterarguments to Weber's celebrated thesis.79 In the 1930s historians Henri Pirenne and Ernst Troeltsch explored the economic and social history of the church; and in the same decade historians William E. Lunt and Robert H. Snape published their respective investigations of papal and monastic finances.80 Harvard professor and historian Raymond DeRoover analyzed medieval banking and finance, and jurist and historian John T. Noonan examined the role of usury in the doctrine of the medieval church.81 Many other sociologists and historians contributed to the growing volume of literature on the social and economic history of the medieval church on such topics as church property, marriage, the doctrine of purgatory, heresy, the Inquisition, and the Crusades.
Reflecting the encroaching influence of economics, contemporary sociologists such as Andrew M. Greeley, Rodney Stark, and William Sims
Bainbridge have been studying the impact of secularization in religion and religious movements.82 In an attempt to explain religion as an ubiquitous force of human behavior, these writers have explored various facets of religion such as cult formation, magic, fundamentalist revival, the evolution of the concepts of God and religion, and many other issues. Their efforts—especially in establishing the empirical nature of their inquiry—have bolstered the foundation of the economics of religion.83 Even as they search for principles rooted in sociological premises (e.g., the social effects of power and its distribution), a growing number of contemporary sociologists have incorporated economic methodology into their studies.
Vital contributions have also been provided by scholars carrying on related areas of investigation. The careful exegesis and analysis of ancient and medieval texts by economist Odd I. Langholm concerning value, exchange, and usury are invaluable to historical inquiry into the economics of religion.84 The same can be said of historical studies of medieval attitudes, such as avarice, which has been the subject of a complete survey by medievalist Richard Newhauser.85 It would be impossible to fully understand religious competition in the early Middle Ages without this kind of rigorous foundation. Ironically, Newhauser found that the concept of avarice, as promulgated from the earliest Christian teachings through the Middle Ages, created a mindset foretelling the end of the world in the tenth century, but later used it to good effect by heretical sects to justify doctrines of liberalism and laissez faire in opposition to the authoritarianism of the Catholic Church.
Was this article helpful?