Religion and Public Goods Provision: Evidence from Catholicism and Islam
44 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 17 Aug 2011
Date Written: 2011
What are the institutional and spiritual mechanisms which enable religious communities to produce public goods? With the collapse of many states and the retrenchment of social services, much recent political science research has asked what fosters provision of public goods outside of state or government. However, organized religions have an ambiguous status in research on civil society, with some scholars conceptualizing and analyzing them as components, and others excluding them. Our project advances the study of public goods provision and group cooperation in political science by giving sustained and systematic attention to the causal properties of Catholicism and Islam as producers of generous behavior. What specific religious beliefs and institutions promote generosity? Do these vary across religious traditions?
This paper will focus on these questions, using data from field research conducted in Milan, Paris, Dublin and Istanbul and derived from semi-structured interviews with religious community members, and religious leaders in Dublin and Istanbul. Italy, France and Ireland have been and remain crucial to the history and life of the Catholic Church and Catholicism; Turkey is a leading Islamic country, with a significant role in Islam’s history. We argue that religious communities produce public goods through mobilizing their spiritual and institutional repertoire. A number of factors significantly influence generosity of individual members: individual’s relation to his or her religious community and his or her experience of its rituals; the religion’s institutional capacity to get its members involved in charitable activities; and national social welfare policies. We use this study of generosity within Catholicism and Islam to test several propositions derived from the literature on public goods provision. We also use this study to test what the mechanisms for public and club goods provision within the two religions are - what aspects of their theology and rituals, of their community and institutional structures, promote public goods provision? We suggest that not only do organized religions provide sanctions and incentives through their theologies and institutional structures, but these same theologies and institutional structures can also elicit the pro-social tendencies of individuals. Both religions have institutional structures and belief systems that facilitate generosity, the providing of public goods at a cost in time and expense and effort to oneself. For these two mainstream religions, neither one has strong sanctioning or monitoring systems; Islam perhaps has a stronger one than Catholicism, but neither religion could be characterized as being a strict sect.
The paper assesses these factors through analysis of semi-structured interviews and questionnaires, and case study materials in order to further assess various hypothesized causal mechanisms.
Keywords: Catholicism, Islam, public goods, generosity
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