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Religion Research Hub > Theories, Concepts & Measures > Theories > Rational Choice/Religious Economies

Definition:

"Individuals act rationally, weighing costs and benefits of potential actions, and choosing those actions that maximize their net benefits." (Iannaccone, 1997:26)

"Within the limits of their information and understanding, restricted by available options, guided by their preferences and tastes, humans attempt to make rational choices." (Stark and Finke, 2000:38)

"A religious economy. . .encompasses all of the religious activity going on in any society." (Stark and Finke, 2000:35)

Citations:

a.) Stark, R. and R. Finke. 2000. Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion. Berkeley: University of California Press.
b.) Stark, R. and W. S. Bainbridge. 1985. The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation. Berkeley: University of California Press.
c.) Stark, R. and W. S. Bainbridge. 1987. A Theory of Religion. Toronto: Peter Lang.
d.) Warner, R. S. 1993. "Work in progress toward a new paradigm for the sociological study of religion in the United States." American Journal of Sociology 98:1044-93.
e.) Young, L. A. 1997. Rational Choice Theory and Religion: Summary and Assessment. New York: Routledge.


    Related Concepts  
The following Concepts can potentially capture some of the ideas of this theory.
Denominationalism
 Definition:

The organizational form that dominant religious traditions assume in a pluralistic culture (Christiano et al., 2002:101). Denominationalism refers to the subdivision of a particular religion. A common example is Protestant Christianity in the United States. While each denomination ascribes to what are considered foundational tenets of the Christian faith, they maintain separate identities due to differences in what are considered peripheral issues. However, some denominations might consider that others have actually left the "true" Christian faith.

A central method for measuring denominationalism is RELTRAD. Steensland et al. proposed this typology in 2000 and it is currently the most widely accepted way of accounting for differences in religious tradition. Included within the typology are Evangelical, Mainline, and Black Protestants. These could be used to approximate differences believed to be due to denominationalism.

Extrinsic Religion
 Definition:

Using religious participation and affiliation to achieve practical goals such as social status.

Particularism
 Definition:

Belief that only one's own faith is true or that salvation can be achieved only by adherence to one's own religion.

Religious Behavior
 Definition:

Type and amount of religious actions an individual exhibits. Closely tied to the concept of religiosity, religious behavior focuses upon what individuals are doing in relation to religion specifically. The most commonly used measure of religious behavior is church or worship service attendance. Research shows that the act of attending alone exerts a powerful influence on individuals. Another religious behavior that can be operationalized is contributions toward religious activities or entities. Self-reported religious experience can also be used as a measure of religious behavior. This measure is less well-known and as such utilized less in research.

Religious Belief
 Definition:

On its most basic level religious belief refers to views toward the supernatural. Usually paired in research with measures of religious tradition and religious behavior, measuring religious belief allows researchers to gain insight into what respondents are thinking concerning the supernatural. One of the most common religious belief measures is whether or not respondents believe in God. A new strain of research is focusing not just on if individuals believe in God, but specifically what they believe God to be like. The images of God variables are used to create various scales that have proven to be highly predictive of attitudes and behavior. Probably the most common religious belief measure used in religious research is biblical literalism. This variable grouped with religious tradition and religious behavior is a common set of religious controls for any statistical model. Beyond these religious beliefs lie a less-used list of other beliefs. Belief in Hell, Jesus, salvation, Satan, angels, demons, heaven, or the "end times" provide a rich palate of possible research opportunities dealing with religious belief.

Religious Compensator
 Definition:

"A distinctive feature of religious organizations is that they promise attainment of rewards, such as eternal life in Heaven, that cannot be delivered in the here and now (Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009:466). 'When humans cannot quickly and easily obtain strongly desired rewards they persist in their efforts and may often accept explanations that provide only compensators. These are intangible substitutes for the desired reward, having the character of I.O.U.s, the value of which must be taken on faith' (Stark and Bainbridge 1987:36).

Religious Consumer
 Definition:

One of the economic roles individuals play when engaged in religious behavior. Individuals act rationally, weighing the costs and benefits of potential actions, and choosing those actions that maximize their net benefits. Religiously active individuals seek rewards through social interaction in a world of uncertainty and deprivation. (Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009:461-462)

Religious Human Capital
 Definition:

Familiarity with a religion's doctrines, rituals, traditions, and members. Iannaccone, 1990:299

The degree of mastery of and attachment to a particular religious culture.

Stark and Finke, 2000:120

Some common means of measuring religious human capital is to find out if individuals have been a part of a particular religion for long. This can be operationalized through respondents' self-reported religiosity at age 12, their parent's religious tradition, or their attendance levels at age 12. Presumably, those in the same religious tradition (found by comparing parent's and respondents religious tradition), highly religious, or attending at high levels at age 12 enjoy a greater amount of religious human capital compared to those who do not. Another possible operationalization of religious human capital is religious intermarriage. Stark and Finke (2000) and Iannaccone (1990) suggest that those with less religious human capital are more likely to religiously intermarry compared to those with more religious human capital. Church attendance and church contributions also provide a look into a person's possible level of religious human capital.

Religious Investor
 Definition:

One of the economic roles individuals play when engaged in religious behavior. "Consumers who give their church time and money in hopes of earning entry into Heaven are essentially investing it in. When they die, and 'and go to their reward,' then they believe they can cash in on this investment"(Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009:461, 467).

Religious Markets
 Definition:

The three main economic roles that people play in religion - consumers, producers, and investors - fit together to create markets. Social outcomes (markets) constitute the equilibria that emerge from the aggregation and interaction of individual actions. (Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009:468)

Religious Preferences
 Definition:

"Individual's evaluations of competing religious goods" (Sherkat, 1997:69). Religious preferences as a concept is used to explain why individuals participate in different religions and styles of religion. It seeks to answer why specific religious choices are made. Generally, religious preferences are adaptive, grow stronger with consumption, and can respond to new information (Sherkat, 1997:66). Individuals learn their preferences through socialization and past experiences; immersion in religious communities bring individuals to have particular religious understandings which give religion value (Sherkat, 1997:70).

Some possible operationalizations of religious preferences include how individuals view the Bible, God, or the path to salvation. Each of these are theological issues and serve as markers to what types of religious goods individuals prefer. Religious experience could also approximate the preferences individuals might have for religious goods. Some might desire an experiential faith while others do not.

Religious Producer
 Definition:

One of the economic roles individuals play when engaged in religious behavior. Religious producers behavior follows the same principles as that of consumers. They act rationally, weighing the costs and benefits of potential actions, and choosing those actions that maximize their net benefits. Their maximizing now relates to the supply-side of the religious economy. "Whether pastors, priests, rabbis, or imams - religious producers will tend to adjust behavior so as to maximize the return to their efforts" (Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009:461, 464)

Religious Regulation
 Definition:

"The restrictions placed on the practice, profession, or selection of religion." (Grim and Finke, 2007:636)

Religious Seekership
 Definition:

The state of a person unsatisfied with currently available religious affiliation and carrying out exchanges in search of more satisfying affiliation.

Sectarian Tension
 Definition:

The relationship between a sectarian movement and the wider culture, marked by difference, antagonism, and separation.

Items measuring the three dimensions can be found in Bainbridge and Stark (1980).

Secularization
 Definition:

The decline of religious faith and of the influence of the churches.

This concept refers to changes over time in the aggregate, not to data collected at one point in time or describing one individual person.

A common measure is the fraction of respondents to the General Social Survey over time who report having no religion.

Unchurched
 Definition:

A person who does not report a religious affiliation or does not belong to a religious organization, sometimes limited to people who do express religious beliefs.