Larry Witham on the Economics of Religion
Date: January 10th, 2011
Author and former journalist Larry Witham joins Tony to talk about his recent book Marketplace of the Gods: How Economics Explains Religion. Just as the title says, Larry Witham investigates a new and growing field within the social scientific study of religion that is often refered to as the “religious economies” perspective. Dating back to insights from Adam Smith, more recent scholars such as Rodney Stark, Roger Finke and Laurence Iannaccone have begun using insights from microeconomic (or “rational choice”) theory to explain a wide variety of religious behavior and institutional organization. Larry details the history of this field and how he came to be interested in it. We then discuss some of the basic premises of this approach and how economic theories of religion explain behavior at the household, group and market level. Contrary to popular images, we talk about how this approach is not necessarily “all about money,” but rather it deals with how religious actors (worshippers or clergy) try to achieve their goals in a world of scarcity and have to make difficult decisions that maximize the best possible outcomes. We turn to the various critiques of this approach and note that it may have complimentarities with other theories of religion. This is an excellent podcast to listen to in conjuction with a number of the previous episodes featuring economists (see below). Finally, as a special treat, Larry gives us a peek at his next book project about attending art school. Recorded: December 27, 2010.
Larry Witham’s website.
Marketplace of the Gods: How Economics Explains Religion by Larry Witham.
A City upon a Hill: How Sermons Changed the Course of American History by Larry Witham.
The Proof of God: The Debate that Shaped Modern Belief by Larry Witham.
The Measure of God: OUr Century-Long Struggle to Reconcile Science and Religion by Larry Witham.
Who Shall Lead Them? The Future of Ministry in America by Larry Witham.
The Association of Religion, Economics, and Culture (ASREC), the website of the organization of folks who use economics to study religion.
Timur Kuran on Islamic Law and Economic Development.
Marc von der Ruhr on Megachurch Recruitment and Retention.
Eli Berman on Religious Terrorism.
Dan Hungerman on Religious Charity and Crowding Out.
Michael McBride on Religious Free-Riding and the Mormon Church.