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Tension refers to the amount of tension or difference between a religious group and its surrounding sociocultural environment.  Religious economies theorists posit that religious demand in a population reflects a “normal curve” regarding the amount of tension sought in a religious group.  They assert that most people prefer a group with medium tension, i.e. one that sets a person apart enough to instill a strong sense of group identity, but not one with so much tension that ties to the outside world are cut.  A higher number of people will prefer such groups over groups in high tension and also over those with tension so low that members are indistinguishable from mainstream culture.  It is important to note, however, that these theorists posit that at least some people will prefer both high and low tension religious groups.

Tension is also used to explain individual commitment to groups in that a higher cost of membership is proposed to produce higher levels of commitment.  At present tension has not been measured in any substantial or convincing manner.  The closely related concept of strictness is usually used to represent tension.  The greatest difficulty in measuring tension is that its measurement is dependent on both the religious group and its surrounding environment.


Bainbridge, William Sims.  1997.  The Sociology of Religious Movements.  New York, NY: Routledge.

Stark, Rodney and William Sims Bainbridge.  1979.  “Of Churches, Sects, and Cults.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 18:117-133.

Stark, Rodney and William Sims Bainbridge.  1985.  The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation.  Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Stark, Rodney and William Sims Bainbridge.  1987.  A Theory of Religion.  New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Stark, Rodney and Roger Finke.  2000.  Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

The following are possible measures of Tension that can be created using data from theARDA.com
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