Marketplace of the Gods: How Economics Explains Religion

Marketplace of the Gods: How Economics Explains Religion

Marketplace of the Gods: How Economics Explains Religion

Marketplace of the Gods: How Economics Explains Religion

Synopsis

In Marketplace of the Gods, award-winning journalist Larry Witham tells the inside story of the ground-breaking - and controversial - "economic approach" to religion, a story rich with history, contemporary thought, and the colorful people who are using economic ideas to solve the puzzles ofour religious beliefs and behaviors. Written with an investigative flare and a lively writing style, this fascinating book presents a wide-ranging account of how the economic approach to religion can be applied to different faiths, activities, and times in history. Drawing upon cutting edge ideasfrom the behavioral sciences, and a deep knowledge of religious history, this new approach reveals how the choices individuals make regarding religion can shape households, groups, movements, and the entire "religious economies" of nations. For many, this new economic approach seems an uncomfortablemixture of sacred and profane, turning our good angels into grubby consumers. But as Witham concludes, the economic approach to religion has insights for everyone, believers and skeptics, offering an exciting exchange of ideas between economics, sociology, psychology, history, and theology.

Excerpt

From first to last, this book will use economic images to talk about religion. Religion will be portrayed as a matter of choosing, consuming, marketing, and competing. In this form of expression, when we see temples or churches on street corners, they are “going concerns.” Religious beliefs, by the same token, are goods and services, or they are matters that people invest their lives in, as if valuable stocks.

This is surely not the first time readers have heard religion talked about this way. It is part of our common language, and indeed, economic metaphors are pervasive in sacred scriptures, especially the Bible. But in this narrative, the purpose is very different: it is neither to be cynical about religion nor to be pious about it. This book is the story of a new project in the human sciences. It is being called the “economic view of life,” and both economists and sociologists are applying it to all human behavior. This approach is also making new sense of the puzzles and mysteries of religion. Obviously, religion is not exactly like shopping or investing. It is a unique and serious pursuit of beliefs and values. But religion is also a behavior; a way of choosing and acting that says something universal about how human beings have always behaved—and will behave in the future. The economic approach to religion looks for these universal patterns.

Applying an economic approach to religion is not as narrow as it may at first sound. It brings together a variety of viewpoints, from the cool calculations of social science to the warm appreciation of human creativity and foibles. It also takes a respectful look at people and their faiths. This joining of the profane and the sacred, the economic and the religious, is never easy. The attempt to squeeze all human behavior into economic models has been called “economic imperialism,” and perhaps rightly so. But over the past thirty years, the “imperialism” has developed enough finesse, good humor, and insight into the study of religion to make a general-interest book such as this possible.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.