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A Theory of Religious Organizations

Final Report Summary - RELIGION (A Theory of Religious Organizations)

In this project we have set out to develop new tools to understand religious organisations. We developed a new game theoretical framework that explains how religious organisations work. The main premise of the framework is that religions can instil beliefs in individuals that make them behave more socially, at least towards other religious members. The difference between different religious organisations is how they use these initial beliefs to create a culture of social signalling by which individuals try and signal to others their religiosity. In one extreme example, participation in public religious rituals is the way individuals signal their religiosity. In another example, social signalling takes place through scrutinising others behaviour.

We provide a historical case study of the transition of city states in Switzerland from the Catholic to the Protestant religion. We argue that the Catholic church of those times can be viewed as a religion organisation that emphasises rituals as above. On the other hand we examine Calvin’s innovation, the Consistory (a committee of local elders of the community), and show how it served the role of monitoring and scrutinising both religious and secular behaviours. The Calvinistic church can therefore be viewed as one that emphasises behaviour as the way by which one can signal his religiosity. Our framework then allows us to compare the two religious organisations and understand how different people might prefer one to the other.

Our important results and achievements are:
(i) To model religious organisations that emphasise rituals as the way to signal one’s religiosity to others. For these organizations, we charecterise a taxonomy of religious organisations according to the level of participation of their members, the strength of their beliefs, and their attitudes towards other members as well as non-members.
(ii) To model religious organisations that emphasise behaviour as the way to signal one’s religiosity to others. For this we also provide a formal model of the self signalling aspect of Protestant beliefs a la Weber (1904).
(iii) To provide a normative and a political comparison between the above two types of religious organisations.
(iv) To provide a historical case-study of Calvin’s reformation in light of our analysis. To show that the role of Calvin’s institution of the Consistory and providing a theory of why this institution is behind the success of Calvin’s reformation in Geneva. To analyze the political economy of voting in city councils to adopt the Reformation.
(v) To provide a study of inter-religion relations and show that more cohesive and more strict religions will be less cooperative towards larger and less cohesive ones.
(vi) To provide a study of the dynamics of religious beliefs and participation, and show under what belief systems religions can survive in the long term.
(vii) To provide a study of how positive and negative shocks to the well-being in society affect religious participation and beliefs. We show that positive shocks decreases participation and polarizes beliefs, whereas negative shocks might increase participation.
(viii) To provide a study of the secularization hypothesis and show that -surprisingly- religious participation can increase following more secular attitudes in society.
(ix) To provide a framework in which the welfare implications of religious organizations (at the individual level and the average level) can be assessed and compared and to show under what conditions religion increases or decreases the welfare of all in society, both secular individuals and religious ones.