Are Religious Organizations Like Firms?

Can ideas from economics, such as that monopolies are lazy and that competition leads to better products, be applied to understand religion? Every year I teach my students–both those in my class on economic sociology and those in my class on sociology of religion–about the economistic or the rational choice perspective on religion.

Most people think individual religious behaviors and religious organizations are driven by emotions, theology, and/or tradition. But rational choice theories of religion are modeled are assumptions about human behavior now current in mainstream economics: humans are rational, self-interested beings who seek to maximize rewards and minimize their costs. What makes religion so powerful in motivating  human behavior is that most religions promise rewards or punishment in another life.

One path-breaking book which applies the rational choice perspective to American religion is Roger Finke and Rodney Stark’s “The Churching of America 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy,” which won the Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Given that the U.S. has never a state-established religion, religious groups here have always had to win over adherents. To explain which religious groups thrive under these conditions of an open market for religion, [Read more...]

Gendered Assumptions and Weak Ties

by Amy Reynolds

This past Saturday, Barbara Mikulski from Maryland became the longest-serving female congressperson in the history of the United States, having been elected to the Senate in  1986. She is currently one of 17 female senators (an all-time high for the United States). Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox suggest in Men Rule (a report released by American University) that the United States ranks 91st when it comes to the representation of women in national office.

One of the findings of Lawless and Fox is that part of the gender gap in political representation is connected to ambition. One of the seven variables affecting ambition is the lower encouragement women receive to run for office. They argue:

The 2011 gender gap in political ambition—based on a variety of measures—is roughly the same magnitude as it was in 2001. Women today remain just as unlikely, relative to men, as women ten years ago to consider running for office. . . . Because of deeply embedded patterns of gender roles and norms, becoming a candidate will remain a far less appeasing and feasible option for women than men, at least for the foreseeable future.

Such a finding seems to go hand in hand with a 2011 article from the American Journal of Sociology by David Cotter, Joan Hermsen, and Reeve Vanneman that suggests gender role attitudes have not changed much since the turn of the century.  Especially interesting to me was the report that only around 70% of respondents claimed that working mothers could have warm relationships with their children.

While gender roles are not the same as they were fifty years ago, some of the same assumptions persist. (A recent petition, Dad’s Don’t Babysit, [Read more...]

Reds and Blues on Cohabitation and Marriage

(Last on a theme from Premarital Sex in America…)

Blues are pragmatic about sex and marriage. Reds are idealistic about them. Sociologist Maria Kefalas gets at this by talking about marriage “planners” and marriage “naturalists,” although I don’t think those terms map nicely onto blue and red because while the number of marriage “naturalists” out there are shrinking by the day, there are still plenty of reds.

Since blues are so pragmatic about relationships, cohabiting is fine. End of story. It’s the default, expected option among the majority of them. Marriage will often follow, but pressure toward that end will most likely emerge slowly, over several years. For reds, cohabiting can be a long-term arrangement—especially among less-educated reds—but it continues to be imagined as a temporary fix, with traditional marriage understood as the preferred arrangement. Among many reds, however, the temporary fix is getting longer and starting to look more and more permanent.

As noted in previous weeks, reds and blues often chase similar things: they both like sex, they’re serial monogamists, and most still esteem marriage. For both, sexual attraction and romantic love, once considered too fragile to sustain marriage, have instead become the primary criteria both for entering and exiting the institution [Read more...]

Faith and the Duty Work of Fathering

When I teach sociology I usually think about daily life examples to stress the value of concepts in sociology, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy blogging here, to test these examples and connect them to concepts. One of the big draws to sociology for me was the importance that good concepts can have in rethinking how our daily lives function. This is actually a key matter when we think about religion. Religion as a way to view reality, a worldview, changes the way we think about how we live life. As many a religious leader has noted, religious people make real decisions that radically alter the way their lives run. We’re invited to reconsider our priorities in life and how they mesh (or fail to mesh) with our lived reality. In the world of evangelicals they use phrases like “walk like you talk” or “having a consistent witness.”

Sociologist Mark Chaves noted however that this is a bad assumption to start with regarding the personal lives of religious people. We’re highly inconsistent or “incongruous” when it comes to what we believe and what we do. At its worst it’s popularly defined as hypocrisy and at best it’s being a “goody-goody” at some things but not others.  [Read more...]

Are University Professors Prejudiced against Evangelical Christians?

Here are some rather disturbing data from a study university professors in the United States. This study, conducted by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research of 1,269 college faculty members. Faculty were asked: “What are your overall feelings toward the following groups using a scale of 0-100, which goes from 100, very warm or favorable feeling, to 50, neutral, to 0, very cold or unfavorable?” Which religious group do college faculty feel most unfavorable toward? Evangelical Christians… by a lot. Here’s a graph of the results:

What are the implications of this finding?

1) Double-standard. It indicates a double-standard regarding tolerance and diversity and academia. Imagine the outcry if so many professors disfavored other religious groups, such as Jews or Muslims? What if the same was said about other groups: gays, blacks, Hispanics, the disabled. I’m not saying that Evangelicals face more prejudice than these other groups in society in general, but rather prejudice against evangelicals is widely accepted in academia. [Read more...]


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