#8 Larry Iannaccone on Sacrifice, Stigma, and the Economics of Religion
Date: July 29th, 2018

I owe a great deal professionally to the work of Larry Iannaccone, a professor of economics at Chapman University as he played a pivotal role in my intellectual development, putting me on a research course that landed me where I am today.  We recount some of our adventures in this podcast, including how I first found one of his many outstanding articles, as well as his surprise to find that somebody was citing his research.  Prof. Iannaccone is one of the founding fathers of the new “economics of religion” movement that went from a small handful of scholars in the 1980s (including Rod Stark and Roger Finke) to being able to host a conference with several hundred attendees on a regular basis.  His impact on the study of religion is enormous.  Not surprisingly, many of the episodes in Research on Religion have an economic vibe (see below for some of the other honorable mentions), but I was in hot pursuit from 2010 to get Larry on the show.  He is rather shy and too humble, but the power of his work meant that I would not rest until he was on.  In this episode, we cover one of his most important papers on how religious groups solve their collective action problems, most notably through the use of bizarre rituals, stigmatizing clothing, and seemingly irrational sacrifices.  In my humble opinion, his article “Sacrifice & Stigma: Reducing Free-Riding in Cults, Communes, and other Collectives” is a landmark publication in the study of collective action (and worthy of a Nobel Prize nomination if not an award).  This work has had an enormous impact on studies ranging from prison gangs to terrorism.  Earlier this year, we had plans to do a series of live interviews at an ASREC conference in Orange, CA, that would have included a plenary session with Larry, but something got in the way of that.  One of my only regrets about this program was that I was never able to do that.  If you are in any way interested in understanding what religious folks and institutions do, you need to read the vast catalogue of Larry Iannaccone.

Original Podcast Link.


Michael McBride on Religious Free-Riding and the Mormon Church.

Jared Rubin on Religion & Credit Risk in the Ottoman Empire.

Timur Kuran on Islamic Economics.

Carolyn Warner on Religion and Generosity.

Charles North on Religion, Economic Development, and the Rule of Law.

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