Friday, January 28, 2011

Churches and Social Media

As explained in this story and also here, churches are very active in online social media. About half of all churches actively use Facebook, and the percent is larger for larger congregations and for congregations in cities and suburbs. Online social media are used to do many things, including distributing news and fostering interaction among members. Nearly half of all pastors surveyed use Facebook.

Online social media enhance interpersonal connections, and in our terminology constitute a form of social capital. Because social capital is an important component of religious capital, it is no surprise, then, that churches would want to be engaged in social media. It does, however, raise questions about what is the proper way for churches and adherents to use social media. The Pope, for example, recently called for those participating online to adopt what he called a "Christian style presence" of honesty and responsibility and warned against false online profiles. See here and here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book Club - God is Back #2 Winter 2011

In Part Two of the book (ch. 5-7), the authors look at religion in the United States. Here they see blending of other-worldly and this-worldly, and this is nowhere more evident in the competition between churches.
Across America churches now compete to provide "total service excellence." These pastorpreneurs don't just preach on Sundays. They don't just provide services for the great rituals of birth, death and marriage. They keep their buildings open seven days a week, from dawn to dusk, and provide a mind-boggling array of services: some megachurch complexes even contain banks, pharmacies, and schools. Counseling and guidance groups are routine. So are children's ministries. .... All this emphasis on customer service is producing a predictable result: growth. (pp. 185-186)
The trends identified by the authors can be viewed in many lights. Is it the secularization of churches? Or the sacralization of the secular? Yet, the authors claim that the rapid growth is "forcing churches to become yet more business-like and management-obsessed" (p. 187).

Overall, the authors identify how market forces are at play in many aspects of religious life, from the variety of religious choices available for religious consumers to the practices of religious leaders. Can you think of other ways that market forces are influencing religious life?

Interfaith Marriages

The story that you must read as part of Homework 4.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

We've Made it to Twitter!

The first Twitter reference to our class is here! Many more to come, right? (Just don't tweet them in class.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

When is a Fee also a Tax?

According to this story on the St. Louis Today web site, the city of Mission, Kansas, is now requiring churches to pay "transportation utility fees" to help pay for crumbling roads, and the churches are challenging the fees in court. Churches are non-profit organizations and usually have tax exempt status. City officials claim that these fees are not a form of taxation, but the churches filing suit disagree. When is a fee also a tax?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Club - God is Back #1 Winter 2011

Micklethwait and Wooldridge end the introductory chapter of God is Back with the following thoughts:
The Founding Fathers' clever compromise over religion not only allowed God to survive and prosper in America, it also provided a way of living with religion--of ensuring that different faiths can coexist, and of taming a passion that so often turns the religious beast to savagery. This was one of the Founders' greatest gifts to man: getting rid of the established church, establishing a firm distinction between public reason and private faith, and consigning theocracy to the past along with monarchy and aristocracy.
But later, in Chapter 3, they write:
By 2000, the country was split just as dramatically over religion as it had been in 1900--but this time the split was not between different denominations (Protestants for the Republican Party and Catholics for the Democrats) but between people who were hot for religion, whether they were Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, and people who were cooler, whether they were atheists, modernists, or infrequent church attendees.
Understanding how these quotes can be reconciled will get you a good way to understanding the authors' main arguments. The key is understanding the connection between religious vitality. What is that connection?

You may also want to review my book club posts for the Introduction and Chapters 1-4 from last year.

President Obama Declares Religious Freedom Day

Last week, President Barack Obama declared January 16, 2011 (last Sunday), to be Religious Freedom Day. You can read the entire Presidential Proclamation at the White House's web site.

Promoting religious freedom both in and outside the country is an official goal of the American government, a fact we will read about later in the quarter. For now, I am interested in knowing if you think these declarations amount to much. At the least, the press attention they get reminds the American public that religious freedom is a policy goal. It is also true that religious freedom is a goal for which people of all political persuasions agree, so it is good press for anyone. Any other benefits you see?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Larry Witham Podcast on the Economics of Religion

The latest Research on Religion podcast is an interview with Larry Witham, author of a new book called Marketplace of the Gods: How Economics Explains Religion. I will not require you to listen to the podcast (approx. 60 minutes), but I recommend it as a way to review some key ideas. Maybe you could listen to it as part of your study for a midterm or the final exam. Yours truly even gets a shout out around minute 16.

For the record, I was asked to review this book for the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (UCI access may be required). My review, which identifies both strengths and weaknesses of the book, will hopefully be published before the end of the quarter. Personally, I would have answered some of the questions asked in the podcast differently than Witham. But that is fine; getting a different perspective is a good thing.

Taxing Witches in Romania

The Romanian government has identified a new source of revenue: taxing witches. Read this short BBC news story for some details.

Tax policy is also a way to regulate religion. Imposing taxes on witches, assuming that they pay them, will raise the cost of their operations. Basic supply and demand analysis from introductory economics suggests that this negative supply shock should lead to an increase in the prices of witches' services and a decline in the quantity of witches' services traded in the market. Of course, some witches could decide to not pay and move their services underground. Doing so is costly as well, so again the prediction is a drop in witches' services traded, all else equal. Whether reducing the consumption of witches' services is part of the government's motive is not addressed in the story.

But others see a positive angle to the development. By taxing the witches, the government is implicitly recognizing them as being engaged in a legitimate business activity. Should the government's earlier classification reduce any stigma associated with paying a witch, then this acts to decrease the cost of the the witch's services. This effect would obviously work in the opposite direction of the supply shock mentioned in the earlier paragraph.

Which effect will dominate? Will the quantity of witches' services sold in the market go up or down?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Roger Finke Podcast on Religious Persecution

This week's Research on Religion podcast is an interview with Roger Finke about religious persecution. This topic is especially timely given the troubles Christians faced in Iraq this past holiday season (see this story). Later this quarter we will discuss and use the Grim-Finke religious regulation indices, as well as the ARDA website (link in sidebar).