Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

The Smithian Market of Religions and its legacy: Another Great Schism between Economics and Sociology?

Georges El Haddad, BETA

In the most neglected pages of The Wealth of Nations (1776 [1937], p.740-66), Smith introduces religions into a competitive market. After him, sociology then economics raise close questions about religion and develop along similar and diverging markets alternatively. This article studies the sociology and economics of religion’s common background. It analyzes the evolution of the markets of religions in the two disciplines to show their reliance on Smith. Our issue is to analyze if the markets of religions after Smith evolve contradictory or complementary in sociology and economics of religion. Interestingly, in addition to their Smithian bases, we remark that the bridge between Smith and economics of religion rises via sociologists. Hence, current economists deal with State regulations of religion in continuum with sociologists issues. In our perusal of the two disciplines, sociology and economics of religion are clearly intertangled and build on each other. For instance, sociology of religion heavily relies on economic concepts, as market, demand/supply, rationality, preference, and competition. Following Smith, we seek carefully his unknown contribution to sociological market of religions then distinguish it from his contribution to the “religious market” in economics. In facts, sociologists of religion put Marx, Durkheim and Weber’s analyses of religious decline, that lead to secularization theories, in the succession of Comte (Willame, 1995 and Davie, 2007). But, in this paper, we put sociology and economics of religion in the succession of Smith. Our results show a dissemination of Smith’s ideas between sociology and economics of religion, a (unknown) Smithian background for sociology of religion and a demand-side market of religions in sociology. We see a dissemination of Smith’s market in contrasted, and sometimes divergent, evolutions between sociology and economics of religion, but without a current Smithian market of religions. Smith’s market analyses exist partially in the both disciplines. To achieve our objective, we return to Smith’s market of religions, analyze its two dimensions and follow further analyses of religion. On the one hand, a demand dimension evokes the development, science and education influence on the religious demand. We show that this dimension evolves implicitly with Marx, Durkheim and Weber to integrate secularization theories, especially Berger’s sociological market (1967). On the other hand, a supply dimension explains clergy’s motivation. We explain that this dimension develops itself implicitly in sociological “religious economy” (Finke and Stark) then explicitly in economic “religious market” (Iannccone, 1991). Methodologically, we show that the schism between demand and supply mechanisms appears with the introduction of Becker’s rational choice into Smith’s market. We explain that there is no opposition between economics and sociology, but a methodological difference between demand and supply mechanisms.


Keywords: Adam Smith, Market of Religions, Secularization, Economics and Sociology of Religion

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