Monday, December 1, 2014

Spending Habits of Religious Households

See this article from the Economist.  The author reports:
Households "with a strong commitment to faith"— demonstrated by higher spending on religious activities—are less likely to be weighed down by excessive mortgage outgoings or loan payments for cars. Compared with other households, they are more likely to be home owners but their property tax burden tends to be less—suggesting that "some moderation in [the] selection of home in terms of extravagance or location...."
Devout households seem keener on mitigating risk and therefore spend more on life insurance and health insurance; they lay out less on alcohol and tobacco and more on domestic appliances, including cooking utensils...
But religious families do allow themselves some earthly pleasures. Indeed, they are if anything a little more likely than other households to spend spare money on clothing or jewellery, although the amount each household splurges on jewellery is a bit less...
The picture that emerges is one of religious types engaging in sensible, but not self-denying, behaviour.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Political Orientations by Denominational Affiliation

Here's a nice figure from this blog post at RNS:

The post's author identifies some interesting lessons to take away from the figure, so I suggest you read to the post's bottom.  One note:  the title of the blog post is a bit misleading, as the figure is not about the political ideologies of churches but rather the ideologies of their members.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Friday, July 25, 2014

Freakonomics Podcast on Religion and Happiness

The latest Freakonomics podcast discusses the relationship between religion and happiness.  Go here to listen.  Data reveal a strong positive correlation between religious participation and happiness, but it is surprisingly difficult to identify a causal relationship between the two.  Religion can make people happy, but happy people may be more inclined to be religious.  The podcast discusses this complexity with its usual wit and humor.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Interplanetary Religious Competition

Usually when we conceptualize religious competition, we think of local markets.  Denominations export missionaries to foreign markets to proselytize, for example.  This leads to competition in a local market, but two denominations competing in one local market may also compete with each other in a market in a different location.  An example might be Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses competing for converts in a town in Brazil and in a town in Cote d'Ivoire.

But can you imagine competing in different planets?  Why not?  Pope Francis has just stated that he would be willing to baptise aliens - even Martians.  He said: "who are we to close the doors."   See article here.  Actually, this is not the first time that baptizing extra-terrestrial beings has been mentioned by a Pope.  Pope Benedict XVI apparently once said that he would baptize an alien if the alien asked to be baptized.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

USCIRF 2014 Annual Report

The USCIRF just released the 2014 Annual Report on religious freedom around the world.  See the press release here. This issue includes a special 15th anniversary retrospective.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Church: Fast or Slow?

A new book argues that the successful practices of megachurches cannot be mass-produced by small, local churches.  Instead, these small local churches should promote "slow church," drawing lessons from the slow food movement.  The slow food movement discourages the eating of fast food and encourages eating of locally grown and produced food.  Fast food, here a metaphor for the not-fully-satisfying meal of the megachurch, is viewed as not fully satisfying the community needs of the churchgoer.  See here for a RNS article about the new book and the issues it discusses.

This argument is a neat example of how religious leaders and groups draw ideas from the secular world in informing how they might or should conduct their religious operations.  Our economic analysis cannot assess whether their argument is correct or incorrect, and, of course, different religious consumers may prefer different kinds of religious services.  But the issues of club production and religious capital permeate the article despite the lack of those labels.  And at the least, the slow church people have a nice image around which to market themselves.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Speaking of Schism and Property Rights

What timing!  Earlier this week we discussed how the ownership of church property may factor into a congregation's decision to break away from a denomination.  Well, there has just been an interesting court ruling in Montana on a real-life case of this very issue.

Faith Lutheran Church, a congregation in Great Falls, Montana, decided by vote to ends its affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America due to the ELCA's ordination of gay clergy.  According to the congregation's founding constitution, two-thirds support was needed to authorize disafilliation, but 90% in favor of disaffiliation was needed for the church property and endowment to go with the break-away congregation.    The vote revealed 71% in favor of disaffiliation, with 29% voting to stay.  Those that stayed, renamed the New Hope Lutheran Ministry, thus had legal claim to the property even though they had a much smaller membership than the break-away group (which kept the same Faith Lutheran Church name).  However, the break-away group took over control of the property immediately after the vote.

New Hope sued to keep the property, with Faith Lutheran claiming that the dispute was about religious doctrine so that a court intervention giving New Hope the property would violate First Amendment rights.  The case went to trial and appeals and just yesterday the Montana Supreme Court  ruled that the original constitution was a legitimate contract and thus there was no reason for courts to intervene in a manner contrary to the group's constitution.  For more legal information, see the write-up at Religion Clause, but for the newsy piece, see this article from a local newspaper.

Did those who voted for breaking-away automatically assume they would keep the property and the endowment?  Would they have voted in favor of breaking-away if they anticipated this legal ruling?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Digital Innovation by the Tzu Chi

The Religion News Service has a new article about the role of online technology is fostering the activities of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation.  Tzu Chi, which emphasizes activism and donation above traditional Buddhist practices such as meditation, was established under 50 years ago but has millions of members.  As the article explains, the organization uses social media extensively to spread its spiritual message and build community ties--or, as we would say, the social media builds religious capital. The USA web site of the Tzu Chi can be found here.

Religious Freedom Resources from Class

See here for the TEDx talk by Brian Grim that we watched in class, and here is his Religious Freedom & Business Foundation.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Religious Leader the Fifth Toughest Leadership Role

That is, according to a recent ranking by Forbes magazine (see here).  The list of the top nine includes:
  1. Stay-at-home Parent.
  2. University President.
  3. Second-in-command of Any Organization.
  4. Football Coach.
  5. Pastor, Rabbi, Mullah, or Other Holy Leader.
  6. Mayor.
  7. Editor for a Daily Newspaper.
  8. U.S. Congressperson.
  9. Corporate CEO.
For #5, the article writes:
Pros: You’re seen as a man or woman of God, and what you say gets taken seriously, at least momentarily.
Cons: “Being a pastor is like death by a thousand paper cuts,” says Rev. Dr. Ken Fong, senior pastor at Evergreen Baptist Church in Rosemead, California and a program director at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.  “You’re scrutinized and criticized from top to bottom, stem to stern. You work for an invisible, perfect Boss, and you’re supposed to lead a ragtag gaggle of volunteers towards God’s coming future. It’s like herding cats, but harder.”
Adds Rob Jackson, interim pastor at Hilliard Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio: “I’ve managed people in a traditional office and also in a church—and one of the major differences between is most of the workers in a church are volunteers who will not do something just because it’s their job. Managers of volunteers must always lead by demonstrating a vision for our mission and how their work fits into it.”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Recent Survey Findings on the Compatibility of Science and Religion

A new survey reports people's perspectives on the compatibility of science and religion.  Over 10,000 people were surveyed, including scientists and evangelical Protestants.  The survey has been reported in various places, including this article which also mentions a number of findings:
  • About 50% of evangelicals believe that science and religion support one another, which is higher than the entire American population of 38%, while 27% of American believe there is conflict.
  • The percent of scientists that attend church weekly (18%) is close to the percent of the general American population that attends weekly (20%).
  • Nearly 60% of evangelical Protestants and 38% of all surveyed believe "scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories or explanations."
  • Of those who feel science and religion are in conflict, 52% sided with religion.
  • 22% of scientists think most religious people are hostile to science, while about 20% of the general population think religious people are hostile to science.
  • About 22% percent of the general population think scientists are hostile to religion.
  • About 36% of scientists have no doubt about God's existence.
  • Evangelical scientists practice their religion at higher levels than evangelicals in the general population.

One important lesson is that the incompatibility between science and religion discussed in the media is often over-stated.  It is the staunchest critics of one or the other that get the most attention, while a larger proportion of people believe the science and religion can go together.

Yet, the article does not discuss some differences.  Although rates of religious practice might be similar, it is often true that scientists have different beliefs about certain religious teachings.  For example, in other studies, scientists, although often believing in God, often believe in a different kind of God than the rest of the population.  A well known example is Albert Einstein who often spoke about God but did not believe that God was a personal being in any way.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Free-riding and Smart Phones

Guest post by TA Jerrod Anderson

We have recently covered the highly important topic of club goods. Here is an article from Lark News (a Christian version of The Onion): This satirical article brings up many important economic topics: free-riding in religious production, scarcity (especially as it relates to attention), and the opportunity costs of attending a religious function (and what is technology’s role in changing those opportunity costs).

Saints and Religious Competition

Guest post by TA Jerrod Anderson

Most of our discussion of the demand for religion has focused on church attendance (when is church attendance high, when is it low, how do special events affect church attendance, etc.). With our discussion of clubs and religious monopolies later in the class you will get a better idea of how the competitive landscape affects the quality attributes of religious products (some of which you have already seen in God is Back). This Economist article ( highlights the changes the Roman Catholic Church has made in their procedures for declaring someone to be a saint, particularly the practice of putting a price cap on the amount of money that can be spent to promote possible sainthood. Think about how this may be a response to the competition in religious marketplace in developing countries (the introduction to God is Back provides some clues). Just like churches may use special guest speakers to increase attendance, perhaps the Catholic Church uses its choice of saints to increase adherence in various markets.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Club - God is Back #2 - Winter 2014

Part One of the book makes a few important arguments.  Rather than going into detail into all of them here, I will draw your attention to two of them.

The first argument is that the United States and Europe have carried out two very different paths of the relationship between religion and state.  What are those paths?  Why were they so different?

A second argument is that the different paths have different implications for the degree of religiosity in those two regions.  What is the logic of this claim?  What reasons do the authors give in making the argument?

Be sure to understand these arguments.  You may want to go back and read through the book again to reinforce the important ideas.  You might also want to look at blog posts for prior years on the God is Back book.

Man Church

The first sentence of this article from the Detroit Free Press give the punchline:
A church in Canton is starting a new program called Man Church aimed at encouraging men to get involved in their congregations and in society.
The church is the Connection Church, a Pentecostal congregation with about 1500 weekly attendees.  While the program is meant to help solve social ills, it is also meant to reach out and pull more men into church.  During their meeting on January 18 (the date the article was first published), the group discussed a book titled "Why Men Hate Going to Church."

Reaching out to under-churched populations is a common thing in churches.  Many church leaders try various--sometimes extremely creative--ideas in expanding the membership and influence of their churches.  In this case, the program is meant to appeal to under-churched men, and the very name "Man Church" may give a hint at the kind of man they are looking for.

This reminds me of prior creative endeavors by religious leaders that have made it to this blog in earlier posts:  Drive-in Church and Pet Church.  Religious leaders frequently innovate in their attempt to reach and influence a broader set of people.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Club - God is Back #1 - Winter 2014

The introduction to Micklethwait and Wooldridge's God is Back provides a number of provocative facts, ideas, and claims.  Some of them include:
  • The world's major religions are currently engaged in a "scramble for China" (p. 5).
  • One ruse is to set up trading companies in China that are really missionary outposts (p. 6).
  • The biggest problem for the prophets of secularization is that the surge of religion is being driven by the same two things that have driven the success of market capitalism: competition and choice (p. 21).
  • The American model of religion--one that is based on choice rather than state fiat--is winning (p. 25).
Yet, it is another of their claims that is particularly interesting in light of the recent Pew report (mentioned here).  Micklethwait and Wooldridge claim that:
It now seems that it is the American model that is spreading around the world:  religion and modernity are going hand in hand, not just in China but throughout much of Asia, Africa, Arabia, and Latin America.
But should this claim above remain true given the recent Pew report that regulation of religion is on the rise in many countries around the world?  Is the Pew finding too recent to have been noticed by the God is Back authors?  Or are both going on, i.e., we see a growth in religious freedom in many countries while simultaneously seeing a decline in religious freedom in others?  What other questions come to your mind as you read this chapter?

An Increase in Hostility Toward Religion

A new report on hostility toward religion around the world has recently been released by the Pew Research Center.  A nice overview of the report is found here (the much longer full report is found here).  Some of the findings include:
  • The share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year high in 2012.
  • A third of the 198 countries/territories had high religious hostilities.
  • The sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, but there were also significant increases in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • The share of countries with high or very high levels of government restrictions on religion stayed about the same.
  • Restrictions on religion, whether social or by government, are high or very high in 43% of countries.
In our class, we will discuss these measures of hostility toward religion and discuss how they might affect religiosity.