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Religious Economies

Religious economies perspectives are built on rational choice assumptions.  In particular these approaches assume that there are potential benefits to religious participation, both psychological and inter-personal, that people may seek.  With the analogy that overall levels of religion in an area are like a market, it assumes an innate demand for some type of explanation system and posits that differences in levels of participation can be at least partially explained by the supply of “religious goods” in an area.  Producers of these religious goods and individual consumers become central concepts, as well governmental regulation of religion.  Other important concepts include the level of tension between a religious group and the surrounding socio-cultural environment and the level of “strictness” required to be a member of a religious group.

“Individuals act rationally, weighing costs and benefits of potential actions, and choosing those actions that maximize their net benefits.” (Iannaccone, 1997:26)

“Within the limits of their information and understanding, restricted by available options, guided by their preferences and tastes, humans attempt to make rational choices.” (Stark and Finke, 2000:38) 

“A religious economy … encompasses all of the religious activity going on in any society.” (Stark and Finke, 2000:35)

Citations:

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

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

Stark, Rodney and William S. Bainbridge. 1987. A Theory of Religion. Toronto: Peter Lang.

Warner, R. Stephen. 1993. “Work in progress toward a new paradigm for the sociological study of religion in the United States.” American Journal of Sociology 98:1044-93.

Young, Lawrence A. 1997. Rational Choice Theory and Religion: Summary and Assessment. New York: Routledge.

The following Concepts can potentially capture some of the ideas of this theory.
Contributors:
The organizational form that dominant religious traditions assume in a pluralistic culture (Christiano et al., 2002:101). Denominationalism refers to the subdivision of a particular religion. A common example is Protestant Christianity in the United States. While each denomination ascribes to what are considered foundational tenets of the Christian faith, they maintain separate identities due to differences in what are considered peripheral issues. However, some denominations might consider that others have actually left the "true" Christian faith. A central method for measuring denominationalism is RELTRAD. Steensland et al. proposed this typology in 2000, and it is currently the most widely accepted way of accounting for differences in religious tradition in random sample data.  Included within the typology are Evangelical, Mainline, and Black Protestants. These could be used to approximate differences believed to be due to denominationalism.  Another popular schematic was developed by Smith (1990), which is used on the General Social Survey. View related items in the Measurement Wizard:
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Pluralism refers to the amount of religious diversity in a given area.  Rather than being a simple count of the number of different religions, it is typically defined as the amount of “evenness” with regard religious affiliation in an area. Secularization and religious economies perspectives are at odds over the consequences of pluralism, with the former positing that it leads to increasing irreligion and privatization, while the latter suggests that increased religious competition fosters strength in religious organizations (cf. Berger 1967; Bruce 2002; Finke and Stark 1988, 1998; Stark, Finke, and Iannaccone 1995).  Pluralism has frequently been measured with the Herfindahl index; however the debate over the consequences of pluralism for religious vitality remains unresolved due to methodological problems resulting from the use of the Herfindahl index to predict adherence rates (see Voas, Olson, and Crockett 2002).
Contributors:
This refers to one's level of religious commitment. It is most commonly measured through self-report of various practices. Frequency of attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer, and reading sacred texts are all potential indicators of religiosity.  However, beliefs such as Biblical literalism can also be used as indicators of religiosity, but they are limited in their general application due to a tradition-specific relevance.  It is also worth noting that religious groups vary in the frequency with which they require certain types of practice.  Other potential measures, such as how much money a person gives to their place of worship, are occasionally used. View related items in the Measurement Wizard:

View related items in Measurement Wizard Scales:

Contributors:
The type and amount of religious actions an individual exhibits. Closely tied to the concept of religiosity, religious behavior focuses upon what individuals are doing in relation to religion specifically. The most commonly used measure of religious behavior is church or worship service attendance. Research shows that the act of attending alone exerts a powerful influence on individuals. Private forms of practice such as frequency of prayer or the reading of sacred scriptures are also important considerations.  Other forms of religious behavior that can be operationalized are contributions toward, and participation in religious activities or entities outside of worship. Self-reported religious experience can also be used as a measure of religious behavior. This measure is less well-known and as such, utilized less in research. View related items in the Measurement Wizard:
Contributors:
Familiarity with a religion's doctrines, rituals, traditions, and members (Iannaccone 1990:299). The degree of mastery of and attachment to a particular religious culture (Stark and Finke 2000:120).  A common practice for measuring religious human capital is to find out if individuals have been a part of a particular religion for a long period of time. This can be operationalized through respondents' self-reported religiosity at age 12, their parent's religious tradition, or their attendance levels at age 12. Presumably, those in the same religious tradition (found by comparing parent's and respondent's religious tradition), those who are highly religious or attended at high levels since childhood enjoy a greater amount of religious human capital compared to those who do not. Another possible operationalization of religious human capital is religious intermarriage. Stark and Finke (2000) and Iannaccone (1990) suggest that those with less religious human capital are more likely to religiously intermarry compared to those with more religious human capital. Church attendance and church contributions also provide a look into a person's possible level of religious human capital.
Contributors:
A religious compensator is belief in a future reward and/or justice.  Contrasted with immediate rewards, compensators represent the promise of future reward.  According to Iannaccone and Bainbridge, "A distinctive feature of religious organizations is that they promise attainment of rewards, such as eternal life in Heaven, that cannot be delivered in the here and now" (2009:466).  Accordingly, "When humans cannot quickly and easily obtain strongly desired rewards they persist in their efforts and may often accept explanations that provide only compensators. These are intangible substitutes for the desired reward, having the character of I.O.U.s, the value of which must be taken on faith” (Stark and Bainbridge 1987:36).  Although the concept of compensators occupied a central role in early efforts to theorize religious activity from a religious economies perspective, some later efforts largely dropped this concept from the general theoretical framework (cf. Stark 1999; Stark and Bainbridge 1987; Stark and Finke 2000).
Contributors:
One of the economic roles individuals play when engaged in religious behavior. Rational choice theorists posit that individuals weigh the costs and benefits of potential actions, choosing those actions to maximize their net benefits. Religiously active individuals seek rewards through social interaction in a world of uncertainty and deprivation (Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009:461-462).  The application of rational choice assumptions to religious behavior remains controversial among some scholars (e.g. Chaves 1995), who maintain that assuming "rational action" in effect assumes away issues that warrant explanation.
Contributors:
The three main economic roles that people play in religion - consumers, producers, and investors - fit together to create markets. Social outcomes (markets) constitute the equilibria that emerge from the aggregation and interaction of individual actions on both the productive and consumptive sides of religion (Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009:468).  Markets vary widely in the diversity of choices offered, depending on the relative population size, history, and level of regulation/repression of certain forms of religion occurring in a given context.
Contributors:
One of the economic roles individuals play when engaged in religious behavior. "Consumers who give their church time and money in hopes of earning entry into Heaven are essentially investing in it. When they die, and 'and go to their reward,' then they believe they can cash in on this investment" (Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009:461, 467).  This concept is employed within the framework of "rational choice" approaches to religion.
Contributors:
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.
Contributors:
Proponents of this perspective posit that stricter churches reduce free riding, or the ability of members to belong yet not contribute to the group. This concept is generally considered to be part of a religious economies approach to religion because it employs assumptions derived from economics regarding the relationship between individual and group behavior, but there is a distinctive research literature focusing on strictness as an intra-organizational dimension.  Kelley (1972) posited three primary aspects of strictness: 1) ideological; 2) lifestyle or behavioral; 3) policing. The theory undergirding the concept predicts that strict religious groups will tend to retain members and foster ongoing commitment, while more lenient churches will tend to lose members and exhibit lower levels of commitment. At present, there is not a standard strategy for operationalizing and empirically assessing the concept of strictness.  Although Iannaccone (1994) used the opinions of "experts," a more objective approach has been to examine the number of behavioral restrictions made on adherents. There is also a potential avenue of research that examines the micro sociological mechanisms of strict religious organizations from the group processes and symbolic interaction perspectives.  Other current shortcomings in this perspective are the under-specified nature of the connection between strictness and tension with the surrounding cultural environment, and often these terms are incorrectly used interchangeably (Tamney 2005). View related items in the Measurement Wizard:  
Contributors:

Within the framework of "rational choice" approaches, this is one of the economic roles individuals play when engaged in religious behavior. Religious producers' behavior is posited to follow the same principles as that of consumers. Providers of religious "goods" are typically clergy or administrative denominational members.  It is assumed within this framework that their primary goal is to maximize the number of adherents or power they can hold. "Whether pastors, priests, rabbis, or imams - religious producers will tend to adjust behavior so as to maximize the return to their efforts" (Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009:461, 464)

Contributors:
"The restrictions placed on the practice, profession, or selection of religion" (Grim and Finke, 2007:636).  Critical issues involved in assessing the amount of religious regulation in a given context include the level of separation or establishment between church and state, as well as the level of repression and coercion used against particular religious traditions.  The religious economies perspective posits that less regulation of religious markets results in greater overall levels of adherence, because the market can function freely and therefore meet a wider diversity of religious demand.  Conversely, greater regulation of religion is posited as leading to monopolistic religious firms that do not need to compete as rigorously for adherents and that will therefore have less interest in serving the needs of a wide variety of parishioners. View related items in Measurement Wizard Scales:
Contributors:
Proponents of this perspective posit that stricter churches reduce free riding, or the ability of members to belong yet not contribute to the group. This concept is generally considered to be part of a religious economies approach to religion because it employs assumptions derived from economics regarding the relationship between individual and group behavior, but there is a distinctive research literature focusing on strictness as an intra-organizational dimension.  Kelley (1972) posited three primary aspects of strictness: 1) ideological; 2) lifestyle or behavioral; 3) policing. The theory undergirding the concept predicts that strict religious groups will tend to retain members and foster ongoing commitment, while more lenient churches will tend to lose members and exhibit lower levels of commitment. At present, there is not a standard strategy for operationalizing and empirically assessing the concept of strictness.  Although Iannaccone (1994) used the opinions of "experts," a more objective approach has been to examine the number of behavioral restrictions made on adherents. There is also a potential avenue of research that examines the micro sociological mechanisms of strict religious organizations from the group processes and symbolic interaction perspectives.  Other current shortcomings in this perspective are the under-specified nature of the connection between strictness and tension with the surrounding cultural environment, and often these terms are incorrectly used interchangeably (Tamney 2005). View related items in the Measurement Wizard:  
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