Journal Article

Rethinking Religious Social Action: What is “Rational” about Rational-Choice Theory?

James V. Spickard

in Sociology of Religion

Published on behalf of Association for the Sociology of Religion

Volume 59, issue 2, pages 99-115
Published in print January 1998 | ISSN: 1069-4404
Published online January 1998 | e-ISSN: 1759-8818 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3712075
Rethinking Religious Social Action: What is “Rational” about Rational-Choice Theory?

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The rational-choice/market-model of religions really consists of two, separable parts: a model of religious behavior plus a rational-choice explanation of why that behavior occurs. This article examines three key theoretical assumptions of the latter explanation. It shows two of these to be false and the third to be so vague as to be useless. This undercuts a rational-choice psychology as an explanation for religious actions. It undercuts, however, neither the utility of the market-model itself nor of a rational-choice model of human behavior (as opposed to action). Together these can describe the overall structure of the religious marketplace, but cannot — and need not — describe the subjective actions of religious persons.

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Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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