Chapter

History of an Idea

Witham Larry

in Marketplace of the Gods

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780195394757
Published online May 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199777372 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195394757.003.0006
History of an Idea

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The modern “economics of religion” has roots in the thought of Adam Smith, but emerged in modern form when social scientists interested in religion adapted the ideas of George Homans (exchange theory) and Gary Becker (microeconomics) to religion. The basic approach applies a theory of behavior to religious data, which since the 1950s had grown by way of public surveys on religious belief and behavior. Many of the early case studies involved economic models for revivals, “new religions,” and membership declines in mainstream churches. The approach began to grow after the 1970s. It is now associated with its leading thinkers in sociology, Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, and its chief proponent in economics, Lawrence R. Iannaccone. The economic approach is expanding to look at international religion, such as Islam, the politics of religious liberty, and the study of terrorist groups with religious backgrounds.

Keywords: Gary Becker; Chicago school; exchange theory; George Homans; Roger Finke; Lawrence Lannaccone; sociology of religion; Rodney Stark; surveys

Chapter.  8697 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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