Thursday, November 5, 2009

Book Club - God is Back #4

In Ch. 10-12 of God is Back, the authors look more to the future and lay out where they see rising tensions between religious and secular and between religion and religion. Ch. 10 is quite provocative in pitting Muslims and Christians against each other in a battle for world domination, or so the book seems to read. The authors claim that Christians will win out in the long run, and let me list some of their argument in my words.
  1. Muslims are less willing to translate the Koran than Christians are the Bible. This fosters more adaptation in Christian groups, thus suggesting that they might be amenable to competition with substitutes. (P. 273)
  2. Christians are more willing to combine religion with commercial enterprises in disseminating the Bible, again suggesting greater flexibility in competition with substitutes as different versions of the Bible can appeal to different market niches. (P. 275)
  3. The Christian population is wealthier overall and has more resources to devote to spreading its message. (P. 277)
  4. Christianity and its various denomination forms has proven adept at competing in open religious markets, while Islam's strongest manifestations are in state-supported nations. If religious freedoms are trending upward around the world, then Christianity has a leg up in succeeding. (P. 277)
  5. Islam has not confronted modernity and pluralism to the extent that Christianity has, and this hinders the spread of Islam in an increasingly modern and pluralistic world. (P. 278)
I wish the authors included some numbers to support their overall argument. I certainly agree with their points that Christianity has proved adept at facing various religious and secular challenges. However, consider these points. (See this Pew Forum Report for more information on the first two points, but this is not required reading.)
  1. Islam is the fastest growing religion tradition (as distinguished from denomination) in Europe, due to both immigration and high birth rates. Muslims comprise about 5% of the European population today, but are predicted to comprise 10% by 2020. This suggests Muslims can compete with Christians on their own turf.
  2. The rise of Muslim populations in Europe has led to increased persecution and restrictions--sometimes even state sponsored--on Muslims in Europe. Those on the European political right disagree religiously with Islam, while those on the political left disagree with Muslim culture. Many Christians fear Muslim competition enough to start changing the rules of the game.
  3. Muslims often try to use democratic methods to enact policies in line with their teachings, which suggests that Muslims are more adept at operating in pluralistic societies than the authors give credit.
Maybe the authors are right that the Bible will win the "Battle of the Books," but with Islam on the rise in many parts of the world, we should be careful to not underestimate the ability of Islamic entrepreneurs to compete with their Christian counterparts.

Who do you think has the edge in this "Battle of the Books," and why? Does one have a competitive advantage in the religious marketplace?


  1. I think that Christianity has the competitive advantage in this "Battle of the Books." Not only are Christians more willing to sell the bible, they treat it more as a business than Muslims do. Christians have adapted to modernity with new ways to read, or even listen to the bible, such as "Psalm Pilot" and "Podcasting" has led to "Godcasting" (268). There are over 500 translations of the bible, yet Muslims are uncomfortable translating the Koran, and when they do so, it is a "begrudging sort of tolerance" (Micklethwait And Wooldridge, 273). It seems as though Christian bible makers understand better how to, or are just more willing to utilize their physical and human capital in order to generate greater religious capital in the public.

    As I said before, Christianity sees bible selling as more of a business than do the Muslims. On page 275 of God is Back, they list all of the different types of bibles offered to people to cater to their apparent needs. The example that proved to me that bible selling is a commercial enterprise is the "street slang" bible.

    The ability or desire to appeal to each individual person in the world, whether it be language or lifestyle, is what gives Christians the competitive advantage in the "Battle of the Books". It is not as if Muslims CAN'T win the battle of the books, they choose not to. They do not utilize all of their available resources. Although one of the advantages of the Bible over the Koran is "the wealth of its believers"(277). Muslims do have the resources available to them because of the oil rich Saudi area. On the contrary, Christians utilize much more resources in an attempt to generate religious capital in each person across the globe.

    -Jared M.

  2. I agree with what Jared said about the Muslims choosing not to win the "Battle of the Books." Obviously Christians market the Bible much more than Muslims market the Koran, so the Bible is more profitable. However, the competitive advantage occurs mostly due to geographic considerations. In areas that are much more densely populated with Muslims compared to Christians, the Koran is going to have the competitive advantage over the Bible, and in places where there are more Christians (ex. USA), the Bible is going to have the competitive advantage over the Koran.

  3. Jared and Matt, Thanks for jumping in with your thoughts. Like I said in my post, I'd like to see some numbers to support the authors' claim because I see Islam doing fairly well in traditionally Christian areas.

  4. Christianity has the competitive advantage in “Battle of the Books” because the Christian’s world is an open marketplace while the Muslim’s world is a closed marketplace (275). Even though both groups strive to spread the Word, it seems that Christians are more successful in doing so because their willingness to translate the Bible (273) and combine with commercial enterprises (275) allow more than 90% of the world’s population to have access to the Bible (266). They are more efficient in relating the value of inputs and outputs through the utilization of available resources. However, it is quite difficult to determine who will win in other contexts. In terms of population, the authors reported that Muslim population grew from 200 million in 1900 to 1.5 billon today (277). Specifically, if Muslims triples over the next three decades, then the number of Muslims in France would grow from 10% to 25% in 2040 (279). In terms of activeness, a 2007 poll revealed that 37% of Muslims age 16 to 24 wanted to introduce sharia law, and 2 in 5 Muslims at British universities wished to incorporate sharia law into British law (340). In contrast to active participation among young and old Muslims, the regular Sunday attendances in Christianity, the Church of England in particular, has decreased overtime. With decreasing number of attendance, it was reported that church attendees would be down to 350,000 people by 2030, causing 6,000 churches to close (322).
    -Joanna C.

  5. I believe that Christianity will triumph overall due to its greater flexibility and ability to satisfy a larger variety of wants. In the US, Christianity will triumph due to the large overall population of existing Christians and in order for Islam to convert over many Christians it would have to overcome the religious capital that has already been formed and as Starke and Finke stated, individuals tend to stay with the religion of their upbringing. In Europe, Islam doing much better due to a change in demand caused by a population shift, i.e. immigration but some stats have shown the rate of growth leveling off drastically in France from 6.8% in 1990 to 7.1% in 2000. So it looks like the rapid growth of Islam happened between 1900 and 1990 going from 0.1% to 6.8% in France. China is showing very large increases in Christian converts that might be attributed to Christianity’s ability to adapt to and accept modernity, while Islam seems to be a form of dealing with or battling modernity.

    One large factor in Christianity’s ability to spread the faith is its willingness to translate the bible into various languages that apparently Islam is not so willing to do. An example of this can be seen in other sectors of business such as in the sales of homes, If an entrepreneur sees the ability to earn economic profit by selling homes to minority groups in Orange County such as Hispanic and Asian, then the most efficient way to earn that profit is by seeking individuals to translate and mediate the transaction into the clients language, rather than turning down these potential clients on the basis of an inability to communicate(as many sales positions require a second language particularly Spanish and Vietnamese). This greatly increases the cost of joining Islam due to having to learn Arabic well enough to be able to read and comprehend the Koran well before you can even enjoy its offerings. Christianity on the other hand seeks to lower the cost of joining through the use of translation and technology. No longer does a person even have to go to a physical church to hear the sermon, but rather all that is needed is an internet connection, radio, or Television, and that is something that Christianity is much better at doing than Islam.

    That is not to say that Islam will easily lose, it might be that the most effective strategy for Islam is to provide an alternative to Christianity. Rather than compete on the same idea of coping with modernity, it might be in the interest of Islam to take the opposite route and provide religion as a means retreat from modernity, as Christianity has many more resources and technology to appeal to that group. It is obvious that Islam is not failing badly with this strategy as it was the fastest growing religion from 2000-2006 at a rate of 1.9%.

  6. Ramiro, Some people say that some forms of Islam do exactly what you mention, i.e., provide religion as a retreat from modernity. I suspect there will always be demand for such religion, but the interesting thing will be whether this demand will grow or shrink over time.

  7. Michael Chan (14741172)November 21, 2009 at 11:19 AM

    I can't see either religion dominating the other because of the fact that there are choices to choose from in a competitive religious marketplace. However, if a religious war suddenly unleashed and both sides wanted to DECREASE the number of members on the opposing religion, then statistics at the end of the war could most likely prove the victor.

    Christianity does have a strong grasp on taking in members by using all of the modern tools given to them. But based on the statistics, the Muslim religion is growing at a faster rate because of the commitment it demands from each member. It is a very strict group that won't alter its centuries-old structure. Unlike Muslims, the Christian denominations are more flexible in terms of strictness, so members come and go whenever they like.

    A member of a Christian group could easily break off and join the Muslims, or they could just as easily join a completely different religion altogether. With all the different choices in the religious market today, Christians and Muslims have less of an influence than they had hundreds of years ago when they were considered monopolistic and government-instated. Christianity and Muslim have competition that will hinder each side's growth, and that growth will always fluctuate due to the ever-growing market in religious competition.

  8. I noticed that most people recognized that Christianity would win the "Battle of the Books" so I thought i would present some ideas on why the Islamic religion are continuing to grow in many Christian European countries.

    In Lecture 9 and 10 we talked about how there seems to be a positive correlation between tension and strictness. Because there is a higher tension in Europe regarding the Islamic faith, the Islamic groups tend to be more strict. This is also supported by the fact that these Islamic groups have easily spotted stigmas for individuals in their groups (head coverings, or not eating or drinking certain things).

    Although the Islamic religion are more strict in many Christian dominated countries, this strictness tends to help the religious group in many ways as mentioned in lecture 10. With higher strictness, there is a higher tendency that the group will be able to limit and screen free-riding. Also, as noted in lecture 10, "strict groups will have higher average religious capital". By limiting free-riding through the stigma screening, the Islamic group will be able to produce more religious capital and a higher quality religious goods then a large group with many non-contributers.

    In the economic viewpoint, a group with more capital and higher quality goods will be more attractive then a group with less capital and lower quality goods.

    In conclusion, i believe that the high strictness/tension and the stigma screening of Islamic religion has provided them with a great head-start in providing more religious capital and higher quality religious goods (increasing their attractiveness/growt) then many large Christian groups.

    Allen Wang (40666901)

  9. The Muslims in the European continent will still have to overcome much of the regulation and persecution. That alone will take many decades. The Christians in Europe do have it easier to incorporate into society and politics, but when the Muslims catch up to the Christians and Anglo Saxons, then I think the Islamic faith will eventually win. As far as the books go, the Bible will never lose due to factors of the faith that enable Christians to act as businessmen (note Ramiro & Jared) and market their Bible much easier. Muslims in America and South America I do believe will have a tougher time assimilating to that demographic. Muslims have triumphed when faced with adversity, but I don't foresee in the near future any of their success in South America. Islam comprises of 23% of the world's population, which is highly dense in the Mediterranean region and Middle East. The percentage of Muslims in the Americas is only %.05 and in Europe only 5.2%.

  10. Randy Jurdi 62136464

    regarding point number 3 on the defense that muslims try to use democratice methods to inact policies i think the key to this statement is "try". In the middle east parts of the world where muslims are actually in positions to control the state and implement policies the countries are theocracies where religion actually runs everyones lives. I travel to lebanon almost every other year and have witnessed their lack of ability to operate in a pluarlistic society. Lebanons government positions are apportioned by the size of religious groups living in the country. the president can only be marionite (Christian) and vice president must be a Sunni muslim and so on. The muslims in lebanon have the opportunity to win more power then the chirstians but they are split into two warring sects shites and sunnis. both comprise 28% of the countries population each. the author is right that islam has failed to adequetly confront modernism and pluralism. the muslim sects are confronting pluralism with violence and war

  11. i also wanted to let you guys know that in Lebanon there are 18 state recognized sects and the country only has a population of about 4 million people.


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