Funding the Faiths: Toward a Theory of Religious Finance
Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Religion, 2010
16 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2014
Date Written: December 8, 2009
Of all the things that sustain formal religious institutions, none is more essential than material support. Without adequate income, congregations fold, denominations fail, and the faithful flock to greener pastures. Nor is any facet of religious commitment more concrete and quantifiable. People may say all sorts of things about their faith, but there is no substitute for putting your money where your mouth is (and even Jesus observed that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” ). Faced with skepticism about the accuracy and consistency of attendance and membership rates reported by individuals or institutions, the obvious alternative is to follow the money.
Strange as it may seem, the economics of religion has yet to pay much attention to financial matters. In fact, one learns much more about the financial activities of religious institutions from historians, sociologists, and religious leaders, than from economists. There is no good reason for this imbalance to persist. Hence, this essay suggests some first steps toward a general theory of religious finance.
We cannot hope to summarize all the ways in which religious goods and services are marketed in modern America, much less around the world and over time. Nor can we enumerate the countless factors that shape the marketing of any particular religion in any particular time and place. Rather, we seek merely to identify some key aspects of religions and their environments that help us to understand why methods of finance vary so dramatically over time, place, and type of religion. We begin with general claims and follow with specific examples.
Keywords: Financing religion, Rational Choice, Private religions, Collective religions, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, New Age
JEL Classification: Z12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation