Notes on the Sociology of Religion (9)

John C. Rankin

Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, “The Dynamics of Religious Economies,” chapter 8 in Handbook of the Sociology of Religion, ed. Michele Dillon (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1993).


  1. Background: a) Roger Finke, Ph.D., University of Washington (1984); taught at Concordia College, Loyola University, Purdue University; now professor of sociology, Penn State; The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy (1992 w/Rodney Stark); c) Rodney Stark. Ph.D., University of California at Berkely (1971), taught at U.C. Berkely, University of Washington; now professor of the social sciences at Baylor; The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (1996); One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism (2001); Victories in Reason: How Christianity, Freedom, and Capitalism Led to Western Success (2006); etc.
  2. Content. a) “This chapter reviews a small portion of this major paradigm shift: the dynamics of religious economies” (p. 96); b) “Since the founding of the social sciences, the study of religion has been dominated by a paradigm where religion is explained as an epiphenomenon, serving as a salve for social ills, and relying on the unchallenged religious authority of a monopoly to make religious beliefs possible” (p. 96) − Emile Durkheim, Peter Berger; c) old paradigm predicted demise of religion (“secularization thesis”) − August Comte, Max Weber, Sigmund Freud; old paradigm effect where political and educational establishments escaped religious domination; e) no data to support old paradigm − 1. mirage of “Age of Faith” in western Europe,  2. new paradigm: religious doctrine does have intrinsic social power, 3. nix “opium of the people;” enter “amphetamine of the people” (p. 100), 4. nix state monopoly; enter deregulation; f) supply-side − 1. “We identify this subsystem as a religious economy and define the religious economy as consisting of all religious activity going on in any society, including a ‘market’ of current and potential adherents, a set of one or more organizations seeking to attract or maintain adherents, and the religious culture offered by the organization(s) [p. 100], 2. “The new paradigm argues that the structure of the religious market can alter the supply of religion” (p. 100); g) five key elements − 1. a deregulated religious economy is pluralistic, 2. religious monopolies seek to exert a sacralized cultural dominance, 3. deregulation of the religious economy desacralizes the culture, 4. successful religious deregulation serves high religious commitment, 5. Even in contexts of limited competition, religious commitment can be high if defined by conflict; h) the power of voluntary religion in the United States − 1. followed the American Revolution in the effects of the Second Great Awakening, up to the present, measured by church participation; I) The competing power of Protestantism in Roman Catholic South America − 1. conflict and commitment in Quebec (+ urban issue).
  3. Critique: a) deficient (per Warner) from sociological perspective.


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