The Geluk school was late in arriving on the religion scene in Tibet, yet it rose to become the state religion around the middle of the seventeenth century. Using an economics-of religion approach, our argument proceeds in five steps: (1) the homogeneity of the Buddhism market in Tibet in the eleventh-twelfth centuries; (2) the early Ming Dynasty’s non-intervention policy in Tibet and the Chinese Imperial Court's tolerance of a variety of religions (Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism); (3) the rise of the Geluk school during this liberalizing period with the patronage of the hegemonic extended family of Central Tibet; (4) the Geluk school functioning as a club by requiring strictness in the form of celibacy, a monolithic orthodoxy, religious scholarship, and the policy of having only monks as abbot monks. The latter excluded hereditary succession politics from the school’s leadership, thereby creating a corporate monastic system. As a result, (5) the Geluk school was largely able to maintain its institutional independence from kinship politics and, through a strategic alliance with (foreign) Mongol patrons, became the state religion.
Questions about current and prior religious adherence from the International Social Survey Program and the World Values Survey allow us to calculate country-level religious-conversion rates for 40 countries. These conversion rates apply to religious adherence classified into eight major types. In a theoretical model based on rational individual choice, the frequency of religious conversion depends on factors that influence the cost of switching and the cost of having the “wrong” religion. Empirical findings for a panel of countries accord with several hypotheses: religious-conversion rates are positively related to religious pluralism, gauged by adherence shares; negatively related to government restrictions on religious conversion; positively related to levels of education; and negatively related to a history of Communism. Conversion rates are not much related to per capita GDP, the presence of state religion, and the extent of religiosity. Effects from the type of religious adherence are minor, except for a negative effect from Muslim adherence.