Monday, December 28, 2009

Wrapping up 2009 and Looking Toward 2010

Time to wrap up the 2009 year with some big religion stories.
  1. The Pew Forum released this month a big study on religious regulations around the world. Here is the executive summary. The big item was that an estimated 70% of the world's population live under high or very high religious regulations.
  2. For the fifth year in a row, the United Nations passed a resolution against religious defamation, yet support for this is declining each year. The main criticism of the resolution is that it can be used to support the suppression of some minority religious groups whose members speak out against persecutions enacted by member of other religious groups.
  3. These two stories are mentioned in this Economist Magazine article.
  4. Another Pew Forum study on trends in American's religiosity. In short, there is a lot of switching and mixing. Here's a Wall Street Journal article on it.
Putting the year in perspective is Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, which posted online their annual roundtable on the major religion stories during the past year, and Howard Friedman of, who gives his Top-10 Religious Liberty Developments of 2009.

Religion & Ethics Newsweekly also gives a look ahead to 2010.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

End-of-quarter Thoughts on the Blog

I welcome your feedback on the value of the blog. Please take a few minutes to answer the following questions.
  1. Which one or two blog posts did you like the most?
  2. What did you like about the blog? What did you not like about it?
  3. In what ways did the blog contribute to the class, if any?
  4. Would you come back to visit this blog later even though you will not be a student in the class?
Any other comments are appreciated as well. If there is interest, I can continue to post stories even though the class has ended. I have enjoyed our interaction on the blog, and I hope it has contributed to your understanding of the economics of religion.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sikhs and the Possibility of Religious Freedom

Sikh-Americans are small in number: there are only 211 Sikh congregations in the U.S.A. in the year 2000 according to the ARDA web site. Yet Sikhs stand out because of their many distinctive practices. The Pew Forum just published online a short but nice Q&A about the difficulties Sikh-Americans face in practicing their religion in the U.S.A. Much of this has to do with some of the particular requirements of Sikhism, e.g., men must wear head coverings, believers must carry a kirpan (a small curved sword), and more.

The Q&A examines the difficulty in balancing our ideal of religious freedom with other ideals in our society. For example: Should Sikh students be allowed to bring kirpans to school when the swords could become dangerous weapons? Should Sikhs be allowed to wear head coverings when it violates the uniform code required at a place of employment? Should imprisoned Sikhs be forced to shave their beards to comply with prison dress standards?

These questions are often resolved in the courtroom, where judges must perform a balancing act in trying to weigh a person's right to act in line with religious beliefs with another person or group's rights to set rules for behavior. In general, the courts rule in favor of the religious person unless there is a reason compelling enough to overrule that person's right to religious practice. For example, a 1984 ruling went in favor of an employer who required his Sikh employee to shave his beard because the beard hair hindered the operation of a gas mask that must be worn by employees for safety.

But we see here the difficulty in putting into practice our basic notion of religious freedom. Religious freedom often comes into conflict with other freedoms and responsibilities, and this means that religious freedom, even in the U.S.A., is not a right that trumps all other rights at all times and in all places in the eyes of the courts. This conclusion has even led at least one person to conclude that religious freedom is impossible.

It is true that religious freedom in the fullest sense of the term will never be realized because in a pluralistic society there will frequently arise conflicting claims and rights. Yet, saying that religious freedom is impossible can be misleading. Religious freedom is better thought of as existing in a matter of degrees rather than as an either-or condition. There is no doubt that people are more free to practice their religions in some countries than in others. Thus, the notion of religious freedom is still useful even if it can never be experienced in totality. Unfortunately, it also means that some people, like Sikhs in the U.S., will give up some religious practices even in relatively free religious environments.

Update: Coincidently, a Sikh man's is currently suing a transportation company claiming it did not hire him because of his beard and turban. Story here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Market for Martyrs

Our thanks go to Larry Iannaccone of Chapman University for his terrific guest lecture on religious extremism and suicide bombings. Students in the class can go to the class dropbox for access to his paper "The Market for Martyrs." He also mentioned the following books (obviously not required reading for the final exam):
Berman is an economist, and Sageman is a psychologist. Another book of interest is by a political scientist:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sunday Shopping Restrictions Upheld by German Court

From this article about a ruling earlier today by the German Constitutional Court:
The court said the German capital could no longer allow stores to open on the four Sundays prior to Christmas, but permitted shopkeepers keep their doors open this Advent season one last time.

With the least restricted shopping hours in Germany, Berlin’s 2006 decision to allow stores to open on ten Sundays and holidays a year sparked a constitutional challenge by the Protestant and Catholic churches afraid the sanctity of their holy day was being unduly impinged.

After allowing the liberalisation of opening hours on every day of the week except Sunday a few years ago, the high court justices agreed there could be no further weakening of Germany’s Ladenschluss [German store closing] laws.

“A simple economic interest of merchants and the daily shopping interest of potential consumers are not fundamentally enough to justify exceptions for opening stores on these days,” said the court’s president, Judge Hans-J├╝rgen Papier.
Well, I guess December church attendance in Berlin should increase a little.