Monday, October 29, 2012

Reviewing God is Back

The midterm is coming up, and your studying should include reviewing the God is Back book.  To help you review, you should check out these past posts on the class blog about the book.  See here and here.  Focus on the big questions asked in the book.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What is a "place of worship?"

A member of the Church of Scientology in England is challenging a law that she cannot be married in a Scientology chapel.  See the article here; for more on the legal side, see here. According to a law from 1855, a chapel has to be registered as a place of religious worship for religious marriages performed therein to be accepted by the state.  However, her Scientology chapel is not certified as a place of worship but instead is recognized as a place where instructions are concerned with man but are not religious worship.

This story reveals just another one of those ways in which religion is regulated.  People can participate in Scientology activities, but the state has decided which of those activities to recognize as legally significant.  The state must decide what is and what is not religion.  As discussed in class, this is a trick question for scholars to resolve, and it is here leading to contention in the courts.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fewer Protestants and More Nones

The two biggest headlines in the last week have come from the Pew Forum's latest survey.  Below are links to CNN reports on each.

The first headline is that self-identified Protestants no longer comprise a majority of the U.S. population.  The Protestant population has dropped from 53% of the U.S. population in 2007 to 48% now.  Much of the decline is among the white mainline Protestants which as a group have been declining in numbers steadily for decades.

The second is that one in five Americans now claim to have no religious affiliation.  This group, called the "religious nones," is an eclectic group.  Two-thirds of the nones say they believe in God, one-third refer to themselves as "spiritual but not religious," one in five admit praying every day, and 64% of them identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party.  Religion & Ethics Newsweekly will actually be doing a three-part miniseries on the rise of the religious nones (October 12, 19, and 26).

There can be disagreement about how to interpret these trends.  One is that it is the continued march of secularization.  Another is that the first findings is further evidence of religious competition, while the latter is evidence that a new niche may exist for religious groups to court.  In any event, the former trend has been continuing for decades, while the latter trend has been more recent.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mutual Fund Investing and Local Religiosity

Two paragraphs from this University of Georgia news report (HT to TA Robert):

New research from the University of Georgia and Southern Methodist University and published in Management Science [pdf here, but you are not required to read it] shows that the dominant local religion—whether Protestant or Catholic—significantly affects mutual fund behaviors.

Specifically, the findings show that mutual funds headquartered in heavily Catholic areas tend to take more risks and funds in heavily Protestant areas take less risks, said lead author Tao Shu, assistant professor of banking and finance in UGA’s Terry College of Business. The paper was co-authored with Eric Yeung of the Terry College and Johan Sulaeman of Southern Methodist University.

It is not clear why this relationship holds, though the authors mention that surveys show Catholics tolerate more speculative risk than others.  Perhaps you have a better explanation.

And which funds perform better?
Yet, despite the risk-preference differences, the end results are about the same. The risk-taking associated with local religious beliefs does not lead to superior fund returns. The lesson for investors, then, is to ask riskier fund managers to play it safe.