Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Not so Long Ago in Our Own Galaxy...

Glen Watson, the Director for the 2011 Census in England and Wales, just said that it was "not acceptable" to give joke answers on the census but that people who want to declare themselves Jedis are free to do so. See here.

In fact, it was the British census ten years ago that led to the formation of the Church of Jediism. From the Church of Jediism's website:
An email petition was sent round in 2001 asking people to put 'Jedi' as their religion on the census. This petition saw some 390,000 people in Britain do just that. Yes, some may have done this as a joke, however the main outcome was it brought people together.
There are now eight chapters of the Church. The only U.S. chapter is in Florida, though the first marriage performed by an ordained Jedi minister took place in Utah in 2008.

The wikipedia entry lists a four examples of how Jedis have faced challenges in finding acceptance as a religious group.
  • In the drafting of the UK Racial and Religious Hatred Act, an amendment was proposed which specifically excluded Jedi Knights from any protection.
  • In September 17, 2009, Church of Jediism founder, Daniel Jones, was banned from a Tesco Supermarket in Bangor, North Wales for refusing to remove his hood on a religious basis.
  • On March 7, 2010, Jediism was excluded in a U.K. act protecting organizations such as the Church of Scientology from discrimination. A Times report referring to the decision said "beliefs had to be heartfelt."
  • On March 17, 2010, Chris Jarvis, a member of the Church of Jediism was thrown out of a Jobcentre in Southend, Essex, for refusing to remove his hood. He later received a formal apology from the Jobcentre. Story here.
UPDATE: Lest there be any confusion, there are different strands of Jediism. The Church of Jediism is just one of many. See the Jediism wikipedia entry for others.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Club - God is Back #5 Winter 2011

Let's end our online book club with the final words of the conclusion:
Secularists need to recognize that the enemy that "poisons everything" is not religion but the union of religion and power--and believers need to recognize that religion flourishes best where it operates in a world of free choice...
This conclusion is surprising to many people. Secularists often want to suppress religion as a whole, while believers want to suppress religions other than their own. It turns out that either form of suppression causes problems.

Without that suppression, we see that religious markets are becoming more and more like other markets in that religion more so than ever is becoming a matter of choice.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Do Churches and Charities Compete for Dollars?

A recent study summarized here (also reported here) says "no." The study finds that individuals who contribute more to churches also contribute more to other charities, and this result is robust to different ways of slicing up the data. The interpretation given is that churches and charities do not compete for money but instead help foster more spending in the other.

My first complaint is that this interpretation misuses the word "competition." Any dollar given to church rather than charity is, at the margin, a dollar not given to charity. There is an opportunity cost, which connotes a kind of competition. Saying that they do not compete is problematic.

My second concern is more substantive. Suppose a person decides to donate $X of her income to what she perceives as good causes. Then the decision of interest is how she should allocate those $X. She might give $X/2 to church and $X/2 to charity, $X/4 to church and $3X/4 to charity, and so on. Also suppose that there is diminishing returns to donating to more than one organization so each person wants to spread out donations, and that there is a cost, e.g., due to increased time writing checks or filing a tax return, to donating to too many organizations. Then the observed pattern is due to different people have different Xs, and not due to a donation to one causing a donation in another. In true, then there is a strict competition between organizations for a portion of people's donations due to a strong substitution effect.

However, other plausible complications can exist, and these are more subtle. Suppose churches teach their adherents to donate to non-church charities. If committed churchgoers, who happen to donate a lot to their churches because of their high commitment, also internalize the message to donate to non-church charities, then they could also donate more to charities than less committed types. We then see people who donate more to church also donate more to charity, but it is not the donations to one that cause the other. Rather, it is a third facto--in this case commitment--that causes high donations to both churches and charities. Sorting this out will require additional study.

What do you think? Does donating to church cause donations in charities? Vice versa? Neither?

Recent Growth Trends in American Churches

Every year the National Council of Churches produces their Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches. This publication includes various facts and figures about many different religious groups, and its release always leads to news stories about how different churches in the U.S. are growing at different rates.

This year is no different. See here and here, for example, concerning the very recent release of the 2011 yearbook (and you can save $5 when buying it from Amazon.com). Continuing the trend of recent years, the largest mainline churches continue to shrink while Pentecostal churches are growing fast. Here are the recent numbers for the ten largest Christian groups:
  1. The Catholic Church: 68.5 million, up 0.57 percent.
  2. Southern Baptist Convention: 16.1 million, down .42 percent.
  3. The United Methodist Church: 7.8 million, down 1 percent.
  4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 6 million, up 1.42 percent.
  5. The Church of God in Christ: 5.5 million, no membership updates reported.
  6. National Baptist Convention, USA: 5 million, no membership updates reported.
  7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: 4.5 million, down 1.96 percent.
  8. National Baptist Convention of America, 3.5 million, no membership updates reported.
  9. Assemblies of God: 2.9 million, up .52 percent.
  10. Presbyterian Church (USA): 2.7 million, down 2.61 percent.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Book Club - God is Back #4 Winter 2011

Chapters 10-12 of God is Back are in a section called God's Wars. The authors consider various forms of religious conflict or competition, some of it violent and some of it non-violent.

Ch. 10 explores the "Battle of the Book." I expressed doubts about the authors' assessment of this "battle" in last year's post on this topic (here). In the last few weeks there has been some news about new growth projections of Muslim populations worldwide (here). In short, Muslims are growing at a much faster rate worldwide than non-Muslims. And if you're really interested, you can see the many resources here, though this last page would not be required reading.

I want to draw your attention to "The Great Clash" mentioned in Ch. 11. As the authors state:
[T]here is nothing inevitable about a clash between Islam and Christianity. ... As for the idea that Islam is stuck in a clash of civilizations with the West, this too seems unconvincing. Put simply, most of the fighting is not taking place in that arena. One great irony of the war on terror is that many of the people on George Bush's "enemies list" have devoted themselves to fighting people other than Americans. The jihadis' most important war is not against the West but against apostate Muslim regimes, notably Saudi Arabia; where they do battle with outsiders, it is mainly against what they regard as occupying powers. (pp. 305-306)
Here I think authors have more support for their claim. That we see practitioners of Islam coexist with non-Muslims in many Western countries suggests that any clash, should it exist, is not inevitable. Rather, many of the harshest clashes are in non-Western countries.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Do Religious Groups Compete in Canada?

Canadian sociologist of religion Reginald Bibby says that they do not, at least not as much as their American counterparts. See this National Post article.

His soon-to-be-released book (mentioned in the article) must surely elaborate on this claim, but the article does provides a glimpse of his reasoning. According to Bibby, Canadians are less inclined than Americans to make bold truth claims, and this hampers competition between groups. I think the implication we are supposed to infer is that if the groups are not distinguishing themselves according to their truth claims, then there is less product differentiation or less enthusiasm for religious services.

By my own application of the economic approach to religion, I find this logic incomplete. If all that is needed for religious competition is to have more religious entrepreneurs offering bold truth claims, then why are those entrepreneurs not entering the religious market? The article mentions the possibly that demand for religion is low in Canada. This is possible to be sure, but it is not clear why Canada would be so different in this regard from the United States. Is there another explanation?

Another place to look would be the supply side of Canadian religious markets. A quick visit to the ARDA reveals that the Canadian religious markets have a degree of unbalanced religious favoritism. Perhaps this favoritism hinders religious competition to some degree. (We will discuss the impact of religious regulations on religiosity in a couple lectures later in the course.) Can you think of a better explanation?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Links for HW 5 Question 4

The links originally intended for use for question 4 are not working well, so let's just go with the wikipedia entries:
Please use these links to obtain information necessary to answer question 4. Pay particular attention to beliefs and practices.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Book Club - God is Back #3 Winter 2011

In Ch. 8-9 of God is Back, the authors focus on the exporting of American religion, and Pentecostalism is identified in Ch. 8 as one prime example:
Pentecostalism is the great religious story of the twentieth century. (P. 217)

The success of Pentecostalism is a strange mixture of unflinching belief and pragmatism, raw emotion and self-improvement, improvisation and organization: it is as if somebody had distilled American-style religion down to its basic elements and the set about marketing it globally. (P. 218).
Many scholars trace the origins of Pentecostalism to early 20th Century Los Angeles (pp. 81-84), but its reach is now global. It is particularly successful in Latin America where it is challenging the long-standing religious monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church (p. 215).

The authors identify many reasons for Pentecostalism's success, and you should review what those are. One of those may be surprising to you:
Indeed, one of the things that attracts people around the world to Pentecostalism is its very Americanness. (p. 219)
If that is true, it would not be the first time that a highly influential nation or empire helped cause the spread, either deliberately or inadvertently, of a particular religious group. The existence of the Roman Empire helped Christianity spread, for example. In fact, you could ask if there has ever been a case of a religious group going global that did not have behind it some helpful connection to an influential nation.