Commerce, Religion, and the Rule of Law

6 Journal of Law, Religion & the State 213-235 (2018)

24 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2017 Last revised: 26 May 2018

Date Written: May 22, 2018


The rule of law and religion can act as commercial substitutes. Both can create the trust required for material prosperity. The rule of law simplifies social interactions, turning people into formal legal agents and generating a map of society that the state can observe and control, thus credibly committing to the enforcement of the legal rights demanded by impersonal markets. Religion, in contrast, embraces complex social identities. Within these communities, economic actors can monitor and sanction misbehavior. Both approaches have benefits and problems. The rule of law allows for trade among strangers, fostering peaceful pluralism. However, law breeds what Montesquieu called “a certain feeling for exact justice” that crowds out deeper forms of relation. Religious commerce fosters precisely such communities. Religious commerce, however, does not create bridges between strangers as effectively as the formal rule of law. Furthermore, the state tends to be suspicious of tight religious communities, particularly when they are commercially successful.

Keywords: Law, religion, rule of law, trust, markets, development

JEL Classification: Law & Culture, Law & Economics, Law & Humanities, Law & Religion

Suggested Citation

Oman, Nathan B., Commerce, Religion, and the Rule of Law (May 22, 2018). 6 Journal of Law, Religion & the State 213-235 (2018), Available at SSRN:

Nathan B. Oman (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States


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