The Comparative Endurance and Efficiency of Religion: A Public Choice Approach

24 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2019

See all articles by Anthony Gill

Anthony Gill

University of Washington - Department of Political Science; Baylor University

Date Written: June 6, 2019


Religion long has been the neglected child of the social sciences thanks to the stranglehold secularization theory has had on the field. Despite ignoring religious institutions as major actors, the fact remains that all the world's largest faith traditions -- Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam -- have outlasted every single secular institution, government, or dynasty. The Catholic Church holds the record for the longest-surviving formal hierarchy in human history and boasts over one billion members. This paper examines why the major faith traditions have been more enduring than secular institutions, states, and social movements. Using a public choice framework, and spring-boarding the argument from the thought of James Buchanan, this paper argues that religious institutions tend to be more enduring than their secular counterparts for three reasons. First, religious institutions provide valuable public goods, namely the ability to coordinate human behavior around a set of cultural expectations that reduce uncertainty and promote transactions. Second, federalist forms of organization within these institutions helps to leverage local information and supports an ongoing renewal of a "social contract." Finally, ultimate authority for judgement regarding adherence to rules of social order exists outside the temporal whims of individuals who write and execute the laws of the religious society. In other words, "God" serves as Buchanan's ideal neutral arbitrator in his contract theory of government. A case is also made that this form of institutional design is efficient for society, including non-believers in the particular faith.

Keywords: religion, Catholic Church, public choice, governance, federalism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism

JEL Classification: Z12, N00, N40, H41

Suggested Citation

Gill, Anthony, The Comparative Endurance and Efficiency of Religion: A Public Choice Approach (June 6, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Anthony Gill (Contact Author)

University of Washington - Department of Political Science ( email )

101 Gowen Hall
Box 353530
Seattle, WA 98195
United States


Baylor University

One Bear Place #97236
Baylor University
Waco, TX 76798
United States


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics