Rational Choice Theory

Malcolm Hamilton

in The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Religion

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780199588961
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology

Rational Choice Theory


This article critiques one of the most widely discussed and controversial of modern sociological theories of religion: rational choice theory (RCT). It suggests that RCT is best seen not as a theory that explains individual actions and choices, but as a heuristic device for understanding religious provision and consumption. The rational choice theory of religion has had a major impact on the sociology of religion. It has done so because it offers a number of advantages over previous paradigms. RCT has shown us that religion involves active agency, and is not simply the product of socialisation. It involves behaviour no less rational in many ways than any other form of human behaviour motivated by desires and needs and pursued by the use of appropriate means. In doing so, RCT avoids the pitfalls of functionalist approaches and those that equate religion with irrationality, delusion, or false consciousness.

Keywords: RCT; rational choice; religious sociological theories; religious provision

Article.  7731 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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