Thursday, November 09, 2006

New Book Uses Economics to Analyze Religion

Can you buy and sell salvation? Well, maybe not. It is probably all up to the big guy upstairs. But there is a new book out called The Marketplace of Christianity by economists Robert B. Ekelund Jr., Robert F. Hébert and Robert D. Tollison. Below are a few brief exerpts from a Chronicle of Higher Education article about it.

"Churches are susceptible to the same corruptions and incentives as any other institutions. "What I think the economic point of view has to offer," one author says, "is that you can say, OK, this is a spiritual institution and it has spiritual goals. And that's all fine and good. On the other hand, it's run by human beings."

The new book extends an argument that the authors developed in a controversial 1996 book, Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm (Oxford University Press). (Sacred Trust was written with two more authors, Gary M. Anderson and Audrey B. Davidson.) The scholars argued there that the pre-Reformation Catholic Church exploited its monopoly position just as monopoly industries do, looking for each and every opportunity to raise fees on its trapped "customers."

For example, the authors suggested that the concept of purgatory was invented in the 12th century precisely so the Church could extract financial donations from people who wanted to make sure that their deceased relatives' souls would move from purgatory to heaven. That innovation, the economists argued, allowed the Church to engage in "price discrimination" similar to modern industrial firms. The "doctrine of purgatory," they wrote, "provided the Church an opportunity to enhance its revenues and its power by offering differential prices for assurances of salvation to different demanders."

In The Marketplace of Christianity, the authors move forward into the Reformation, arguing that the Catholic Church reacted to the new "market entrant" — Protestantism — much as AT&T reacted when its own monopoly was broken. Among many other things, they argue, the Church competed by increasing the number of Catholic feast holidays offered in regions where Protestantism closely competed with Catholicism."

For general information about the book, go to

MIT Press

For a review, go to

Publishers Weekly

To read the article from the Chronicle of Higher Education go to

The Supply and Demand of Salvation (you may need to be a subcriber-my SAC students might be able to read it if they are logged into their PALS account or are at a school terminal).


champ said...

I think that Churches are very similar to the industry. If the money donated to the Church was for keeping bills in place and/or everything in order, why is there price discrimination. It's a progressive tax out of this world. the more money you make, the more you have to pay according to the 10% rule. In return we normally see the people in charge at the church driving really nice cars and living it what is considered Neat houses. Sometimes the members can barely afford to eat. What do you think of my analysis?

Cyril Morong said...

What you say sounds reasonable. But I am not the expert on this. I also don't go to church, so I don't know how much better of the leaders are than the members