The Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Religion


McCleary, Rachel, ed. The Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Religion. Oxford University Press, 2011.
The Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Religion


This is a one-of-kind volume bringing together leading scholars in the economics of religion for the first time. The treatment of topics is interdisciplinary, comparative, as well as global in nature. Scholars apply the economics of religion approach to contemporary issues such as immigrants in the United States and ask historical questions such as why did Judaism as a religion promote investment in education?

The economics of religion applies economic concepts (for example, supply and demand) and models of the market to the study of religion. Advocates of the economics of religion approach look at ways in which the religion market influences individual choices as well as institutional development. For example, economists would argue that when a large denomination declines, the religion is not supplying the right kind of religious good that appeals to the faithful. Like firms, religions compete and supply goods. The economics of religion approach using rational choice theory, assumes that all human beings, regardless of their cultural context, their socio-economic situation, act rationally to further his/her ends.

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“Widely considered irrelevant to economics for much of the twentieth century, religion is now a subject that scholars study using the empirical and theoretical tools of modern economics. This collection of essays by a stellar group of scholars offers an excellent introduction to the main themes, claims, controversies, and methods of the expanding field known as the economics of religion. At a time of rising interreligious tensions and of increasing religiosity in certain places, the book fills a major need. It should be of interest to a wide range of educated readers, including social scientists, humanists, and policy makers.”

–Timur Kuran, Professor of Economics and Political Science and Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies, Duke University

“The Economics of Religion is spreading fast, leaving it its wake true believers and skeptics–but few agnostics. Professor McCleary has assembled a lively collection of papers that will inform and entertain them all!”

–Eli Berman, Professor of Economics, University of California, San Diego and author of Radical, Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism

“This volume provides a valuable overview of recent economic thinking about religion. Refreshingly devoid of the hype and hyperbole that have marred much earlier work on this subject, these chapters offer a clear-eyed view of how economic ideas can be used and misused to study religion. They show us a productive way forward for the economics of religion.”

–Mark Chaves, Professor of Sociology, Religion, and Divinity, Duke University

“The editor and authors of this handbook bring together in one place what social science has learned about the religious marketplace in the last twenty years. The compilation is both useful and impressive. Scholars from sociology, economics, history, and religious studies have each contributed to our understanding of religious institutions and peoples’ engagement with them. Most chapters sketch an agenda for future research.”

–Michael Hout, Natalie Cohen Professor of Sociology & Demography University of California, Berkeley and co-author of Century of Difference: How America Changed Over the Past One Hundred Years

“We all know how important the Oxford handbooks have been to our various fields and subfields so the publication of this volume marks a moment that deserves recognition by people in the fields of economics, political economy, sociology, and the study of religion. The work on the role of the Protestant reformations in the cultivation of literacy in Northern Europe, the fascinating analysis of trends within Roman Catholicism on “saint making,” the tremendously important research about the relation between conservative religion beliefs and teen sexual behavior as well as marital spousal abuse, the deeply insightful work on the relation between religion and behavior by and toward immigrants – all of this work demands the attention of all of us. And the recognition by one author after another that this field is still in its infancy and can only grow through interdisciplinary collaboration and mutual conversation is most heartening.”

— Ronald F. Theimann, Bussey Professor of Theology, Harvard Divinity School

“The application of economic models to religious behavior has become a growth industry in the social sciences. Rachel McCleary has provided an indispensible guide to a variety of perspectives on this important set of issues. McCleary has assembled an all-star cast, and has produced a useful and important resource for scholars interested in this burgeoning subfield. The essays in this volume will provide an excellent introduction to students approaching this subject for the first time, and will also be quite instrumental in advancing state of the art insights and findings for specialists.”

–Ted G. Jelen, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Last updated on 02/20/2016